By Steve Ramirez
The San Gabriel Valley, with past stars as Mark McGwire, Cecil Fielder and Michael Young, has always been viewed as a baseball hotbed, and that tradition of success is expected to continue this season, which opens today for several of the area’s top programs.
There’s somewhat of a changing of the guard this season, with long-time Northview coach Darren Murphy now running the show at South Hills, and Husky assistant Dan Roddy taking over at Northview. This is also the final season for Nogales coach John Romano, who is retiring. And all eyes will be on Gladstone early in the season as veteran coach Rich Remkus is closing in on win No. 600. He begins the season at 597.
It’s also expected to be a banner season for area teams, with no less than five beginning the season with CIF-Southern Section title aspirations.
The group is led by San Dimas, which begins the season ranked No. 1 in the area after going 26-7 last season and advancing to the Division 4 semifinals, losing to eventual champion Oaks Christian. The Saints, ranked No. 1 in CIF-SS Division 4 to begin this season, look loaded for another run.
“Last year was a tremendous experience for these guys,” said San Dimas coach Mike Regan, who guided the Saints to the Division 4 title in 2009. “You never know what you are going to get each year, but I like our team a lot. They’re a bit battle-tested, and hopefully when we get to it, we show up and play hard. But I like our chances.”
The Saints not only enjoyed the best season in the area last year, but they return most of the key pieces from that team, including first baseman Logan Muratalla, who hit .415, with 38 RBIs, and outfielder Elias Orona, who hit .438 with 30 RBIs.
San Dimas will be led on the mound by junior Peter Lambert and senior Daniel Millwee (2-1, 1.19 ERA).
The Saints are the favorite to win the Valle Vista League, but it will be one of the toughest gauntlets in the area to conquer, with Northview, Baldwin Park and Nogales all expected to be very competitive.
“When people think you’re good, you have to show up every day,” Regan said. “They want to beat you, so for us to be consistent and maintain a high level of play will be huge. We just have to show up every day.”
For a look at the rest of the top ten, click the link
Here’s a brief look at the rest of the top 10:
2. SOUTH HILLS
It’s a changing of the guard at South Hills, where Darren Murphy has replaced long-time coach Kevin Smith, now at Mt. SAC. But the status quo is expected to reign supreme as the Huskies are again the favorite in the Sierra League and capable of making a run at a Division 2 title.
The Huskies, ranked No. 3 in Division 2 to begin the season, are led by pitchers Gavin Velasquez and Erik Martinez and third baseman Jon Ayala.
“Expectations at South Hills are always high,” Murphy said. “But we need to remember we have three starting position players back, so we should get better as the season goes. Pitching is definitely our strength.”
3. BISHOP AMAT
The Lancers begin the season ranked No.3 in Division 3.
They feature one of the better pitchers in the area in senior Andrew Eppenbach (5-3, 1.65 ERA), but they can also hit with senior Scott Hurst (.311, 11 RBIs) and sophomore Anthony Walters (.316, 11 RBIs).
The Del Rey League again will be tough with Serra, ranked No. 1 in Division 4, as the favorite.
The Tartans, ranked No. 6 in Division 2, have the look of a solid club.
The key pieces for Glendora are infielders Eric Flores, who hit .405 and had 26 RBIs, and DJ Peters, who hit .403 and had 24 RBIs. Senior Kale Morton is the top returning pitcher. He was 2-1, with a 2.66 ERA.
Glendora will again challenge in the Baseline League.
The Spartans, ranked No. 5 in Division 2, are South Hills’ chief challenger in the Sierra League.
Damien is led by seniors Jordan Abernathy, who hit .370 with 32 RBIs, and David Banuelos, who hit .270 with 14 RBIs. Grant Hockin is one of the area’s top returning pitchers.
6. DIAMOND BAR
The Brahmas, ranked No. 6 in Division 3, are the favorites in the Hacienda League.
Diamond Bar, which lost its top two players to graduation, will feature juniors Gerardo Ramirez, who hit .386, with 19 RBIs, and Jacob Cooke, who hit .338 with 13 RBIs.
The Bearcats need to find pitching after losing its top arms to graduation.
But Bonita should challenge with returners Justin Gomez, who hit .321 with 20 RBIs; Joe Quire, who hit .292 with 14 RBI, and Tanner Diebold, Sr. who had 11 RBIs.
9. LOS ALTOS
The Conquerors are expected to be a challenger in what should be a tight race in the Hacienda League.
They are led by senior Estaban Ortega, who hit .390 with 19 RBIs, and James Mendez, who was 7-3 with a 1.93 ERA.
The Vikings, San Dimas’ chief challenger in the Valle Vista, feature catcher Alex Labor.
The Braves are also expected to challenge in the Valle Vista League. They are led by Timothy Wells, who hit .405 with 22 RBIs.
Other schools to watch out for are Nogales (22-7) and Sierra Vista (18-6).