About Steve Ramirez

Steve Ramirez has covered prep sports for San Gabriel Valley Newspapers since 1989.

La Habra’s Alyssa Palacios is 2017 WDN Softball Player of the Year

La Habra High’s Alyssa Palacios has been selected as the Whittier Daily News’ All-area Softball Player of the Year. She is pictured at the Highlanders’ La Habra, Calif. campus field June 7, 2017. (Photo by Leo Jarzomb, SGV Tribune/ SCNG)

By Stephen Ramirez
There are times where the La Habra High softball team had the look of an all-star squad.
The Highlanders, with four players signed to NCAA Division I scholarships, were that good this season.
But the shining star was senior Alyssa Palacios, who led the team in hitting to key a run to the Highlanders ninth consecutive Freeway League title.
For her efforts, Palacios is the 2017 Whittier Daily News Softball Player of the Year.
“I’m shocked (to be player of the year),” said Palacios, who will play for the University of Utah next season. “It’s really an honor. I feel excited.
“This is another dream come true. I didn’t think I’d get this one and I did. That’s cool.”
Palacios has been one of the most-productive players on arguably the area’s top team the past two seasons. She hit .393 as a junior in helping the Highlanders reach the CIF Southern Section Division 2 semifinals and followed it by hitting above .400 this season to lead La Habra to a 21-8 record and another Freeway League crown. They also scored wins over Division 1 quarterfinalist Orange Lutheran and Mission Viejo and national No. 1 Los Alamitos.
La Habra advanced two rounds in the Division 1 playoffs.
“I think we had a pretty good year,” said Palacios, who hit above .500 in 10 Freeway League games. “We went out to Laughlin (Nevada) and came in second. That showed us how good we could be and how good we are. It pushed us.
“Sunny Hills got us in league, but that pushed us even more. (The last game) wasn’t our best game, but the girls coming back next year, that will be a lesson they can take with them.”
Palacios will be living a dream by then, playing in the Pac-12 Conference with Utah.
“I’m really excited,” she said. “I’ve watched them on TV and I can’t wait for my family to watch me on TV.
“Growing up as a little girl, everyone wanted to play for UCLA and in the Pac-12. I (looked outside of it) and I could see all these other schools. I think Utah is the nicest one of them all, to be honest. That’s my dream.”
Palacios is joined on the all-area team by four of her teammates, three of which will also play Division I softball.
Hannah Johnson, who has been one of the top pitchers in the area the past two seasons, and pitcher-infielder Janelle Rodriguez are going to Big West champion Cal State Fullerton, with outfielder Kira Cauley, arguably one of the fastest runners in the area, going to Big West rival Cal State Northridge. Cauley shined in the all-star season, playing in three games and winning the North MVP in the OC North-South All-Star Game.
The fourth Highlander is junior Savannah Tourville, who is back next season. All five were All-Freeway League, with Palacios league MVP.
Other on the all-area first team include Whittier’s Alyssa Olague, who helped the Cardinals make the playoffs for the first time since 2009; La Mirada’s Madison Bogdanovich, who was Suburban League MVP; Schurr’s Sienna Perez, who was Red Team MVP at the Whittier Rotary All-Star Classic two weeks ago; La Serna’s Astrid Arevalo, who was Del Rio League MVP, and Whittier Christian’s Heather Gallegos, who batted over .500 for the second consecutive season.
Liza Liddell and Steve Patino, Whittier

The duo helped the Cardinals finish a solid second in the Del Rio League and advance to the playoffs for the first time since 2009. Whittier, which swept rival California for the first time and pushed La Serna before losing two one-run games, also upset Mira Costa in the first round of the Division 4 playoffs before losing in the bottom of seventh inning to Beaumont in the second round.
For their efforts, Liddell and Patino are area co-coaches of the year.
“The Whittier softball program has had a ‘black cloud’ over it for a long time,” Patino said. “Our staff changed the losing culture by instilling confidence in our athletes and showing them how to compete, gaining trust from our players, and building strong senior leadership. Combining all these taught these girls how to win.”
Pitcher: Hannah Johnson, La Habra, Sr.
Pitcher: Alyssa Olague, Whittier, Sr.
Pitcher: Ally Udell, Whittier Christian, Sr.
Catcher: Jaclyn Macias, Cal, Sr.
Infielder: Heather Gallegos, Whittier Chr., So.
Infielder: Savannah Tourville, La Habra, Jr.
Infielder: Tatum Anzaldo, St. Paul, So.
Infielder: Madison Bogdanovich, La Mirada, Jr.
Infielder: Aniz Roman, Schurr, Fr.
Outfielder: Victoria Alvarez, Montebello, Sr.
Outfielder: Astrid Arevalo, La Serna, Fr.
Outfielder: Kayla Gutierrez, La Mirada, So.
Outfielder: Nia Carter, St. Paul, So.
Outfielder: Kira Cauley, La Habra, Sr.
Utility: Janelle Rodriguez, La Habra, Sr.
Pitcher: Sienna Perez, Schurr, Sr.
Pitcher: Naomi Dickerson, La Serna, Sr.
Pitcher: Alexis Bermudez, St. Paul, Sr.
Catcher: Camille Marin, St. Paul, Fr.
Infielder: Marissa Montesdeoca, California, Sr.
Infielder: Jasmine Gray, La Serna, So.
Infielder: Marissa Velez, La Mirada, Sr
Infielder: Gabriella Dauber, Whittier Chr., Fr.
Infielder: Allene Darby, Montebello, Jr.
Infielder: Alexis Riviera, El Rancho, Sr.
Outfielder: Cierra Amarillas Salazar, Cantwell-Sacred Heart, Sr.
Outfielder: Gianna Alvidrez, La Serna, So.
Outfielder: Victoria Medina, Whittier, Sr.
Utility: Amanda Cabral, California, So.
Utility: Stephanie Jimenez, Santa Fe, Jr.
1. La Habra (21-8)
2. La Mirada (22-9-1)
3. La Serna (23-7)
4. Whittier (16-9-1)
5. Schurr (21-4-1)
6. St. Paul (13-9)
7. Montebello (16-11)
8. California (19-12)
9. Whittier Christian (12-15)
10. Santa Fe (14-13)
Almont: Montebello
Camino Real: St. Anthony
Del Rey: St. Joseph
Del Rio: La Serna
Freeway: La Habra
Olympic League: Heritage Christian
Suburban League: Cerritos

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La Mirada’s Kevin Kendall is 2017 WDN Baseball Player of the Year

Kevin Kendall from La Mirada High School was selected as the Whittier Daily News Baseball Player of the Year on Tuesday June 6, 2017. (Photo by Keith Durflinger/Whittier Daily News/SCNG)

By Stephen Ramirez
La Mirada has fielded arguably the top baseball program in the area for the past two decades, and the Matadores added to that tradition by winning the Suburban League the last two seasons.
Kevin Kendall, considered one of the top shortstops in Southern California and who will play at UCLA, played a big part in that success, including this season when La Mirada posted wins against some of the top programs in the CIF Southern Section.
For his efforts, Kendall is the 2017 Whittier Daily News Baseball Player of the Year.
“This means a lot,” Kendall said of being named Player of the Year. “I know there are many other great candidates who all worked very hard as well. I’m just honored to win this.”
Kendall contributed to the Matadores’ effort at the plate and in the field. At shortstop, he solidified La Mirada’s defense up the middle, committing just six errors in 91 chances, with 33 put outs and 52 assists. Offensively, he was one of the top hitters in the area, batting .416 with 12 RBIs and 11 extra-base hits. He also scored 20 runs and stole 18 bases without being caught.
“There’s the old saying where you have to be good up the middle, and we’ve been very, very luck to have him as our shortstop the last two years,” La Mirada coach Jim Zurn said. “No. 1, his baseball talent is through the roof. He’s going to UCLA for a reason.
“But he’s just a good kid. His teammates respect him, they play hard for him, because they know what he gives us. I couldn’t be happier for him.”
With Kendall handling the middle of La Mirada’s defense, the Matadores won 47 of 61 games the past two seasons, including going 24-6 this past spring, and won the last two Suburban League crowns. La Mirada also went a respectable 2-2 in the Boras Classic, posting wins over Del Rey League champion Bishop Amat (4-1) and Los Angeles City Section finalist Chatsworth (6-4).
La Mirada advanced two rounds in the CIF-SS Division 2 playoffs, ending its season at Palm Desert.
“It’s been very special,” Kendall said of playing at La Mirada. “My first year on varsity as a sophomore we came up short. It was good to come back (last season) and this year to come out on top and defend our league title.”
Kendall also grew with La Mirada’s success from league runner-up to back-to-back champion.
“Coming in my sophomore year, I was kind of small,” Kendall said. “Our coaching staff and the rest of the players, we all pushed each other. By the time this year came around, we were all strong.
“I wish we had a better run in the playoffs, but we’re not going to let one game define how successful a season we had.”
Now Kendall will take his talents to UCLA. He’ll join a Bruins program, which is one of the best on the West Coast. UCLA won the College World Series in 2013 and advanced to the NCAA Division I Super Regionals in 2015 and the regional round this season.
“It’s a big step,” Kendall said. “My four years here just came to an end and now I’m looking forward to being part of another great program and hopefully helping them out. I’m really excited.”
Kendall is part of a solid all-area team that also includes teammates RJ Lan and Eddie Salcido; brothers Zach and Jared Thomas, of Cantwell-Sacred Heart of Mary; Santa Fe’s Isaiah Gonzales and California freshman Jacob Sharp.
Lan, who has signed with College World Series entrant TCU, was Suburban League MVP. The Thomases helped Cantwell win its second consecutive Camino Real title, while Gonzales and Sharp were Del Rio League MVP and offensive player of the year, respectively.

Zurn, in his third full season with the Matadores, guided La Mirada from the waters of controversy near the end of the 2014 season to getting back to its usual spot atop the Suburban League, which it’s won the past two seasons.
For his efforts, Zurn, a La Mirada alum, is 2017 Whittier Daily News Baseball Coach of the Year.
“The standard has been set around here for a long time,” said Zurn, who has gone 47-14 the past two seasons. “I was a player in this program. I got to coach under Coach (Kim) Brooks for 11 years and then taking over.
“The make-up of our kids speaks volumes. We got invited to the Boras Classic, which is a testimony to where our program is at and where we want to continue to get better. It was just an exciting year. We had a great group of kids.”
La Mirada went 24-6, including 11-1 in the Suburban League. The Matadores also went 2-2 at the Boras Classic, scoring wins over Del Rey League champion Bishop Amat and City Section finalist Chatsworth.
La Mirada advanced to the second round of the Division 2 playoffs, losing to eventual finalist Palm Desert. That followed a march to the quarterfinals in 2016.
“I have the best coaching staff in the world,” Zurn said. “The four guys who show up every day, they are the ones who take the pressure off me. We’re a team. I’m getting this award, but it’s a tribute to our entire coaching staff.”
Pitcher: Eddie Salcido, La Mirada, Sr.
Pitcher: Abraham Carrillo, La Serna, Sr.
Pitcher: Josiah Austin, Sonora, Senior
Catcher: Jared Thomas, Cantwell, So.
Infielder: Isaiah Gonzales, Santa Fe, Sr.
Infielder: Eli Vasquez, Cantwell, Sr.
Infielder: Will Bermudez, St. Paul, Fr.
Infielder: Zach Thomas, Cantwell, Jr.
Infielder: Gilly Rodriguez, California, Sr.
Infielder: Dylan Villalobos, Sonora, Sr.
Outfielder: RJ Lan, La Mirada, Sr.
Outfielder: Chad Wilson, La Mirada, Sr.
Outfielder: Jared Jones, La Mirada, Fr.
Utility: Ruben Romero, Santa Fe, Junior
Utility: Jacob Sharp, Cal, Fr.
Pitcher: David Olson, La Mirada, Sr.
Pitcher: Alfredo Ruiz, Santa Fe, Jr.
Pitcher: Mike Gutierrez, California, So.
Pitcher: Emilio Morales, La Mirada, Fr.
Catcher: Sal Diaz, La Mirada, Sr.
Infielder: Jacob Mora, La Serna, Sr.
Infielder: Javy Espinoza, Cantwell-Sacred Heart, Sr.
Infielder: Jose Macias, Montebello, Jr.
Infielder: Isaac Ramirez, Sonora, So.
Infielder: Alonso Guzman, Santa Fe, Sr.
Outfielder: Carlos Vargas, Schurr, Fr.
Outfielder: Josh Hernandez, Whittier Chr., Sr.
Outfielder: Nehemiah Rodriguez, St. Paul, Sr.
Outfielder: Jordan Martinez, Whittier, Sr.
Utility: Kevin Smith, La Mirada, Sr.
1. La Mirada (24-6)
2. Santa Fe (20-12)
3. Sonora (19-12)
4. Cantwell-Sacred Heart of Mary (20-8)
5. California (19-9)
6. La Serna (15-16-1)
7. Schurr (12-18)
8. Montebello (14-14)
9. Whittier (14-17)
10. Whittier Christian (13-15)
Almont: Alhambra
Camino Real: Cantwell-Sacred Heart
Del Rey: Bishop Amat
Del Rio: Santa Fe
Freeway: Troy
Olympic: Village Christian
Suburban: La Mirada

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Team Blue sweeps Whittier Rotary All-Star Classic

The Whittier Rotary All-Star Baseball Classics at York Field in Whittier, Calif., on Friday, June 9, 2017. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

By Stephen Ramirez
Whittier was a Blue city Friday.
The Blue Team won the annual baseball and softball games during the 21st annual Whittier Rotary Classic at York Field.
California’s Gilly Rodriguez and La Mirada’s Sal Diaz keyed the Blue to a 5-4 victory in the baseball game, with Cal’s Vanessa Ayala hit a game-winning home run to give the Blue Team a 10-8 victory in the softball game.
“It was a great experience,” said Rodriguez, who was Blue MVP. “It was the last game of my high school career, as well as these other seniors. To go out with the win, it felt great.”
Rodriguez, who was the Del Rio League Defensive Player of the Year, went 4 for 4 with an RBI and closed the door on the Red in the ninth for the save. Diaz had three RBIs to stake the Blue to an early 4-0 lead.
But the Red refused to quit, cutting the deficit to 5-4 on a three-run home run by team MVP Isaiah Carreon (Whittier Christian) with two outs in the ninth.
La Serna’s Jacob Mora followed with a bloop triple before Rodriguez ended it by striking out El Rancho’s Robert Banuelos.

“To come in and save the game, I had a lot of pressure on my back,” Rodriguez said. “But I knew I had to get the job done, and I did it for my team.”
Diaz gave the Blue a 2-0 lead in the third with a two-run single before Rodriguez and Diaz each had RBI singles for a 4-0 lead in the fifth.
The Red Team didn’t have a baserunner until the fourth, with its first hit coming on a leadoff single by Santa Fe’s Alonso Guzman in the sixth.
La Serna’s Eli Martinez broke up the shutout with a RBI double to score Santa Fe’s Isaiah Gonzales in the seventh.

Blue Team’s Jaclyn Macias safe at home plate past the tag of Whittier’s (Red Team) Amaro Monique (22) in the second inning of the Whittier Rotary All-Star Softball Classics at York Field in Whittier, Calif., on Friday, June 9, 2017. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

The softball game almost ended in a tie. Then Ayala stepped up to the plate with two outs and a runner on in the bottom of the seventh.
She lined a pitch from Whittier’s Alyssa Olague into right-center field for a two-run home run to secure the 10-8 win.
Ayala finished the game with three hits and four RBIs to earn Blue MVP. Schurr’s Sienna Perez, who hit a three-run home run to tie it at 8 in the sixth, was Red MVP. She had three hits and five RBIs. La Habra’s Kira Cauley, playing in her third all-star game of the week, also had three its for the Red, including a home run to leadoff the game.
“It was great to get that,” Ayala said. “A tie would have been nice, but nobody really wanted to tie. Getting that hit was nice, and I’m glad I was able to have my team’s back.”
The Blue team looked like it would win easily, taking a 6-1 lead after scoring two runs in the first and four in the second. St. Paul’s Alexis Bermudez, who pithed all seven innings for the Blue, keyed the barrage with a two-run single in the second.
The Red cut it to 6-5 in the fourth on a two-run home run by Whittier’s Jade Sanchez and a two-run single by Perez.
Perez, after the Blue pushed the advantage to 8-5, tied it with a three-run home run to left field in the sixth.
Cal’s Marissa Montesdeoca then kept the seventh inning alive with a two-out single before Ayala won it with her home run.

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CIF State Regional Boys Volleyball Playoffs: La Serna rally comes up short in loss to Sage Creek

By Stephen Ramirez
The best season in the history of the La Serna High School boys volleyball team will not include a CIF State Southern California Regional championship.
But the Lancers died hard Thursday, nearly rallying from two sets down to push No. 2 Sage Creek to five sets before succumbing 25-18, 25-13, 16-25, 24-26, 15-12 in a Division 3 semifinal at Sage Creek.
Christian Janke and Ryan Yates had 21 and 11 kills, respectively for the host Bobcats (30-11), who will face No. 1 Kennedy for the regional title at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Edison High in Huntington Beach.
Geoffrey Mike had 10 kills and Matthew Aldama nine for the No. 3 Lancers (30-4), who were in the state playoffs for the first time after winning their first CIF Southern Section title last week.
La Serna leaves the San Diego area with disappointment, but no regrets.
“I told (the team) they should be very proud,” La Serna coach Monique Gayton said. “Of course, we wanted to be state champs, but undefeated (Del Rio) League champs, CIF champs, state semifinalist … that’s an outstanding year.
“This was arguably the biggest (match) they’ll play in their careers. They did a pretty good job. I’m definitely proud of them.”
The Lancers looked dead after losing the first two sets, but found life early in the third set to pull even at 2 sets each. But they were unable to make enough plays to keep up with Sage Creek, which scored three of four points, including two kills by Janke, to lead 11-8 in the fifth set.
La Serna got within 14-12 on a mis-hit and long serve before Sage Creek won the next point on a mis-hit to advance.
“We tend to get really nervous with a big crowd,” Gayton said. “It was just a lack of focus (early). It was a great match and I love the way we came back. We didn’t travel this far to just go three (sets).
“They stuck together and that’s why we played better in the third set, because we all decided to stay on the same page. We did that for three games strong and it only came down to three points.”
La Serna, after dropping the first two sets, got back into the match by scoring five of seven points during the middle of the third set to lead 20-14. The Lancers then closed the set with four consecutive points, winning it on an Aldama kill.
They jumped out to a five-point lead early in the fourth set before Sage Creek rallied to tie it at 24. But the Lancers won the final two points — a kill by Nicholas Sanford and a net violation — to force the fifth set.
But Sage Creek made the plays to advance.
“A good majority of the time, we were able to run what we wanted to to put a kill down on the other side,” Gayton said. “But had too many missed serves in the fourth game and in the fifth game.”

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Softball playoffs: That’s a wrap; Notre Dame defeats Schurr to end area season

Notre Dame High’s Jessica Guerrero (#33) slides in safe at home in the third inning with Schurr High catcher Marissa Hernandez (#5) covering in their D-6 quarterfinal matchup at the Spartans’ Montebello, Calif. campus field May 25, 2017. (Photo by Leo Jarzomb, SGV Tribune/ SCNG)

By John Sherrard
Schurr High School’s softball team scored 24 runs in its \first three CIF Southern Section playoff games, but the Spartans ran into a pitcher that ended the scoring spree and their season.
Notre Dame junior pitcher Alyssa Molina struck out 15 batters and the Sherman Oaks school won the Division 6 quarterfinal game 5-2 on Thursday.
The Spartans advanced deep into the playoffs for the first time in more than 13 years. Notre Dame will face St. Anthony on Tuesday in the semifinals. It is the first time the Knights have reached the round.
“The is the toughest (pitcher) since the (April 24) Montebello game,” Schurr coach Bobby Madrid said. “We just didn’t have the discipline and went after her riseball. We saw her riseball early and not until the fifth inning we were able break through with some hits.”
The Spartans (21-4-1), trailing 5-0, collected four hits in the final three innings, including a two-run home run by junior Valerie Alcala in the sixth inning. With no fence at Schurr, the speedy Alcala easily outran the relay back into the infield.
“It (home run) feels real good and helped build up my confidence,” said Alcala, who was the only Spartan to hit a home run in the four playoff games. “I think in the first couple of innings we were just too relaxed and we finally got a few hits later in the game.”
Schurr’s Kristina Chavez reached first on a single and got into scoring position at second on a passed ball in the first inning. Molina struck out the final batter and then fanned 10 of the next 15 Spartan batters through the fifth inning.
Two Notre Dame batters reached base against Schurr starting pitcher Sienna Perez in the first two innings. However, the Knights broke through in the third with three runs on three hits, which was highlighted by a two-run single by senior Jessica Fox, scoring Taylor Learnihan (2 for 4) and Julia Vargas (2 for 4). Molina singled and Fox scored when the ball was bobbled. The Knights scored twice more in the fourth.
The Spartans tried to rally in the seventh inning with two consecutive singles by Brianna Mendizabal and Victoria Lujan. But Notre Dame reliever Sydney Goldman struck out the final two batters to end the game.
“Coach (Jackie) Montanez left the program and we just had to keep it going,” Madrid said. “We’re going to keep this thing going and it’s a tribute to coach (Amber) Ackerman and coach Montanez.”

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