Baseball: It’s a Banner year for Bishop Amat, Rio Ruiz and coach Andy Nieto earn top honors

All-Area Story: The taste of winning came during Rio Ruiz’s seventh and eighth grade years, watching the Bishop Amat High School baseball team win back-to-back CIF-Southern Section divisional titles in 2007 and ’08.
“I looked to my dad (Rudy) and said, `I’ve got to come here, I have to be part of this,”‘ Ruiz recalled. “The celebration, the feeling, the rings, I wanted to be part of all that.”

Coach of the year story: For his efforts, Nieto has been selected as Tribune baseball Coach of the Year after leading the Lancers to a 29-4 record.

: Rio Ruiz, Bishop Amat, Jr.
COACH OF THE YEAR: Andy Nieto, Bishop Amat
Pitcher: Justin Garza, Bonita, Jr.
Pitcher: Elias Novelo, Sierra Vista, Sr.
Catcher: Brennan Salgado, Glendora, Sr.
Utility: C.J. Saylor, South Hills, Jr.
Infield: Cameron Pongs, Chino Hills, Sr.
Infield: Ty France, South Hills, Jr.
Infield: Matt Munoz, San Dimas, Sr.
Infield: John Alexander, Glendora, Sr.
Outfield: Matt Gelalich, Bonita, Sr.
Outfield: Rouric Bridgewater, Diamond Ranch, Sr.
Outfield: Adam Alcantara, Bishop Amat, So.

Pitcher: Daniel Zamora, Bishop Amat, Jr.
Pitcher: Matt Lee, San Dimas, Sr.
Catcher: Nick Hynes, Covina, Jr.
Utility: David Berg, Bishop Amat, Sr.
Infield: Nick Cooksey, Glendora, Sr.
Infield: Robert Mier, Bonita, Sr.
Infield: Joseph Keller, Chino Hills, Jr.
Infield: Kenny Mathews, Diamond Bar, Sr.
Outfield: K.C. Huth, Bonita, Sr.
Outfield: Jay Anderson, Bishop Amat, Sr.
Outfield: Dorian Granados, Damien, Sr.

Ruiz, who verbally committed to USC during his freshman year and who many believe could be a first-round draft pick in next year’s Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, delivered on the biggest stage, hitting a momentum-changing two-run home run at Dodger Stadium that started the dominoes falling in a 7-0 victory over top seed Palm Desert to lead the Lancers to the Division 4 championship.

After Amat trailed 4-0 early in the semifinals against Torrance, the same team that knocked Amat out of the playoffs in 2010, the Lancers rallied to tie the score 4-4. Then, leading off the bottom of the seventh, Ruiz doubled and later scored the game-winning run in a 5-4 victory that sent the Lancers to the title game.

For a player who has been under an intense microscope since arriving at Amat because of his ties to U.S. National age-group teams and being invited to just about every All-Star travel event you can think of, winning a championship fulfilled his biggest goal.

“I have great teammates, great coaches, you don’t do it alone … you can’t,” Ruiz said. “We lived with the burden of not winning the past two years. That eats at you. It makes you want to work even harder. I would have felt my high school career was a waste if we didn’t win a championship. If we win another next year, that’s great, but at least I know I’m leaving Amat with a ring on my finger.”

The left-handed swinging third baseman was among the area leaders in just about every statistical category, and compiled those numbers while playing one of the toughest schedules in California, a reason Amat finished as the top-ranked team in MaxPreps’ Southern California poll, regardless of division, and finished in the top 10 nationally in other polls.

Ruiz batted .455 with three home runs, 35 RBIs, 29 runs scored and 14 doubles.

He also became the team’s part-time closer and was downright scary in seven appearances on the mound. He pitched 11 innings and struck out 18 without allowing a run.

For his efforts, Ruiz has been selected as the Tribune baseball Player of the Year.

He also was the Del Rey League Most Valuable Player and CIF-SS Division 4 Player of the Year after the Lancers finished 29-4.

“He’s one of those guys who shows up somewhere around the country every 10 years or so,” Amat coach Andy Nieto said. “With all due respect to everyone else, nobody has to deal with the expectations and pressure that Rio has on his plate, but he plays through it, and like the great ones, he came through in the big moments. That’s what it’s all about.”

The Tribune All-Area first team includes Bonita junior pitcher Justin Garza, a Division 3 first-teamer, and Sierra Vista senior pitcher Elias Novelo.

Garza finished 13-0 and was 2-0 in the playoffs, missing a chance to cap a perfect season at Dodger Stadium after the Bearcats’ 8-3 loss to Beckman in the Division 3 semifinals.

Garza, named the Hacienda League MVP, finished with final numbers that ranked him among the Southland’s best. In 83 innings he had a 0.51 ERA with seven complete games. He gave up only six earned runs while striking out 75. He also was productive at the plate, batting .356.

Perhaps nobody was as important to his team than Novelo, named the Montview League MVP.

Novelo was 9-1 with a 1.72 ERA with six complete games. At the plate and at shortstop he was just as special, hitting an area-leading .514 with four home runs, 47 RBIs and 12 doubles.

The All-Area first-team infield consists of South Hills junior Ty France and seniors Matt Munoz of San Dimas, Cameron Pongs of Chino Hills and Glendora’s John Alexander.

Munoz, on his way to San Diego State, was a Valle Vista League first-team selection and was arguably the area’s best defensive shortstop. He also hit .423 with 32 runs scored, five doubles and four triples for the league champs.

Pongs, a Sierra League first-teamer, had quite a year for the Huskies’ league title team. He hit .494 with 24 RBIs and nine doubles in arguably the area’s toughest league.

France, already committed to San Diego State, is a natural third baseman who does a little of everything for South Hills, including pitching and catching.

The Sierra League first-teamer helped the Huskies win a CIF-SS championship as a freshman, and has continued to be a force at the plate, hitting .479 with 14 RBIs.

Alexander was a Baseline League first-team pick for the Tartans’ league championship team and was selected in the eighth round of Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays.

Alexander batted .386 and led the area with nine home runs to go with 36 RBIs and five doubles.

The All-Area first-team outfield includes Bonita’s speedy center fielder Matt Gelalich, along with Bishop Amat sophomore Adam Alcantara and one of the area’s best all-around hitters in Diamond Ranch’s Rouric Bridgewater.

Gelalich, a Hacienda first-team pick and Division 3 first-teamer, batted .458 with 23 stolen bases. Alcantara, a Division 4 first-team selection, is the only sophomore on the team. He led Bishop Amat with a .475 batting average. He also was a Del Rey League and Division 4 first-team pick.

Bridgewater, who mostly played infield, batted .488 with four home runs, 23 RBIs and 14 doubles.

Rounding out the All-Area first team are Glendora catcher Brennan Salgado, the Baseline League MVP, and South Hills’ C.J. Saylor, who both earned Division 2 first-team honors.

Saylor claims the utility spot for his catching and pitching.

Salgado batted .457 with 29 RBIs and five home runs.

Saylor hit .471 with 17 RBIs and had a 1.81 ERA with six saves.

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  • Witness

    Great job Rio! Good luck this week in North Carolina representing the USA.

    Also, Coach Nieto, You are truly the best HS baseball coach in the land…PERIOD!

  • AMAT 73

    Congratulations to the Men in Blue on making the all valley list. Also to Coach Nieto as COY and Rio as POY . Great job by all who made the All Valley team and congratulations.

  • eastside rider

    congrats to all who made the all valley team. great choices.every player deserves to be on the list.

  • SGV…

    Just got my Sports illustrated in the mail and there’s a great story about Hispanic kids playing Baseball back in the day, the article is called (Barrio Boys). Good job Ruiz and Nieto, your making the community real proud!

    Not to often you get a player who can do what he’s doing on the field, Baseball and football.

    Coach Nieto, wow,your making a name for yourself in CALIFORNIA! HALL A FAMER, no doubt about it!