This story comes from longtime staffer Jim McConnell, the man we call, “The King” around the office. He writes a weekly Then & Now column. This week he writes about the greatest high school baseball teams in San Gabriel Valley history.
By Jim McConnell, Staff Writer
The golden age of prep baseball in the San Gabriel Valley? We’re still in it. Over the past 40 years, area teams have been involved in 76 CIF-Southern Section championship games and have won 43 of them. (to continue click thread)
Likely the best pre-1970 baseball team in the area was the 1956 Mark Keppel nine. Keppel, coached by Maynard Horst and led by CIF Player of the Year Mike McCormick, roared through the regular season unbeaten. In addition to McCormick, five other members of that team went on to play pro ball, including future Dodgers pitcher Pete Mikkelson and noted baseball executive Sandy Johnson.
However, a funny thing happened to the Aztecs on their way to the CIF Large Schools title. They lost in the first round of the playoffs.
“Well, that one was on the coach,” Horst said in a 1998 interview. “I got cute and decided to start my No. 4 pitcher in the playoff opener. I felt he deserved a shot. He went out and gave up five runs in the first inning before I could get him out of there. We wound up losing, 6-5.
“I guess the only consolation was that for years afterward, at every coaching clinic I went to, guys would stand up and tell the story about what happened to us, with the moral being go with your best pitcher. My bad example was a great teaching tool for other coaches.”
Beginning with Bishop Amat, winner of back-to-back CIF-SS 3A Division titles in 1968-69 under coach Pat Holigan, area teams have made their presence felt in a big way.
Considering advances in coaching, conditioning and equipment and taking into consideration high school players of the post-1960 era benefitted from extensive experience in youth ball, it’s this reporter’s belief that the area’s best high school squad has to come from the past 40 years.
But what team?
Here are my finalists: 1971 Northview High, coached by Mel Bantau (won 2A title); 1977 Edgewood High, coached by Karl Major (won 3A title); 1979 Covina, coached by John Bachman (won 2A title); 1982 Walnut, coached by Denis Paul (won 4A title); 1988 Diamond Bar, coached by Paul (won 5A title); 1990 La Serna, coached by Vern Brock (won 3A title); 1992 South Hills, coached by Jim Bastion (won 4A title) and 1996 Bishop Amat, coached by Glenn Martinez (won Division I – formerly 5A Division – title).
This admittedly leaves out a number of other outstanding teams, including Amat’s championship teams of 2001 and 2002 and Edgewood’s championship teams of 1973 and 1976. However, I wanted to limit the field to one team per school.
Here are the playoff results:
Quarterfinals: 1996 Amat 4, 1979 Covina 3; 1977 Edgewood 2, 1971 Northview 0; 1990 La Serna 5, 1988 Diamond Bar 3; 1992 South Hills 7, 1982 Walnut 1.
Notes: No question, the upset of the quarterfinals was
La Serna beating a Diamond Bar team led by future Angels All-Star Jim Edmonds. That La Serna team was as sound fundamentally as any high school team ever. And as good as the 1988 Diamond Bar team was and as great a coach as Denis Paul was, the Brahmas lacked that dominant No. 1 pitcher.
Semifinals: 1977 Edgewood 1, 1996 Amat 0; 1992 South Hills 3, 1990 La Serna 0.
Notes: Pitching obviously is key to these results. Edgewood has the luxury of going with ace Mike Pill against a heavy-hitting Amat team, after having gotten a shutout victory by left-hander Ken Angulo in the opener against Northview. Meanwhile, South Hills goes with Trey Nelson against La Serna after getting a victory by Cory Lidle in the opener, and Nelson shuts ‘em down. That sets up a 1977 Edgewood versus 1992 South Hills finale.
The 1977 Trojans, in addition to Pill and Angulo (both of whom played pro ball before injuries curtailed their careers), had sophomore Rick Aguilera – the team’s starting third baseman – available for pitching duties. Four other members of the 1977 Edgewood team went on to play pro ball.
The 1992 South Hills team eventually sent a Valley record five players to the major leagues. In addition to Lidle, pitcher Aaron Small, first baseman Jason Giambi, catcher Shawn Wooten and reserve Jeremy Giambi reached the bigs. Two other members of the team – shortstop Nelson and catcher Kevin Lidle – played in the pros.
Championship: Edgewood 3, South Hills 2 (9 innings)
Both teams use all three of their top pitchers in a game finally decided in the bottom of the ninth inning when Edgewood’s Ken Toothman hits a game-winning home run off the Huskies’ Small.
The Trojans spot the Huskies a 2-0 lead after three innings on RBI singles by Nelson and Wooten.
But Pill and Aguilera pitch shutout ball over the next six innings. Pill ties the game with a two-out RBI double in the bottom of the seventh off Lidle, driving in Sam Favata, and Toothman wins it in the 9th.
Tournament Most Valuable Player: Mike Pill, Edgewood.
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