Traditionally, the Long Beach/Southeast area is one of excellent high school baseball teams. That tradition continues this season. And the teams that have been consistently at the top are at the top again. The best? It's too soon to tell, but the contenders for the No. 1 team in the area will likely be Lakewood, Poly, Millikan, Gahr, St. John Bosco, St. Paul and St. Anthony, all schools which never leave any doubt that they can play the game.
A preview of all the area teams: MOORE LEAGUE
Lakewood's loaded, which is no surprise. "I probably have five or six college prospects," said Coach Spud O'Neil. O'Neil has an ace pitcher in Mike McNary, but because his other pitchers are unproven he believes Poly should be the league favorite.
"We have a strong hitting team and are good defensively," O'Neil said. Top players are designated hitter Glenn Davis; Scott Ewart, one of the best outfielders in the league; shortstop Troy Hammell, who homered in the pre-season against Tustin's Steve Surico, one of Southern California's top pitchers; second baseman Wayne Tennis, and speedy outfielder Jeff Bowman, a transfer from Brethren whom O'Neil believes will be outstanding.
McNary, a curve-balling junior, struck out 18 batters in 11 innings in the pre-season.
Millikan Coach Dan Peters said anyone has a chance to finish second behind Lakewood. His Rams, 21-6 last year and a perennial power, are a good bet for that spot.
Millikan has three good hitters in outfielders Ralph Lakin and Jason Von Arx and first baseman Steve Shinar. Still, this is the first season Peters has been skeptical about his hitting.
Pitching No Problem
Pitching is no problem with Kevin Gail, who had 40 strikeouts last year, and Phil Kendall, who has been impressive in pre-season. Kendall, a junior, also plays shortstop.
Poly's pride is Erick Bryant, who has been almost untouchable in two years, losing one league game. He was 7-0 last season with a 1.19 earned-run average. "He is so good," O'Neil said.
The Jackrabbits should live up to their nickname on the bases, and they have big bats, too, in catcher Tommy Stiles, who hit .415 in the league last year, and first baseman Scott Moore, an intimidating cleanup batter at 6 feet 5 and 215 pounds. Moore is also a talented pitcher.
There's not a lot of experience, however--Poly Coach Joe Perruccio lost six good starters from last year's 21-8 team. Poly defeated Gahr, 4-2, in a pre-season game.
Compton, Jordan and Wilson have improved, but probably not enough to reach the playoffs.
Compton had a porous defense last year, which was reflected in a 5-18 record, but Coach David Hefflin said, "We are going to be in the top three." Hefflin sees improvement mainly because of junior pitcher Rafael Avila and senior outfielder Keith Stillwell, who hit .288 last year.
Jordan has pitching in Fred White and Mike Cox, but the Panthers' success will depend on their offense, which was impotent last year. Coach Bill Powell is counting on shortstop Ole Koehmstedt, who batted .270 last year. The Panthers came out swinging in a pre-season game, beating Pius X, 19-4.
Wilson is a young team, composed mostly of players who were on the league-champion JV team last year, a fact that impresses Lakewood's O'Neil. Top Bruins include pitcher Ivan Morfin, who has been impressive in pre-season; catcher Tony Tijernia and first baseman Ron Kelly, the team's top hitter last season at .382. S. G. VALLEY LEAGUE
Gahr returns key players from last year's 26-4 team and is ranked No. 1 in the Southern Section's 3-A poll.
"We are probably the front-runner in the league," Coach Tom Bergeron said, and the league's other coaches don't disagree when they look at Bergeron's array of good hitters.
Returning Gladiators and their sparkling batting averages of a year ago: right fielder Pat Redaja (.462), outfielder-third baseman Sean Alves (.428), shortstop Vern Hildebrandt (.382) and center fielder Keith Harrison (.358).
Steve Vernola, who was 11-2 with a 1.58 ERA last year, is an all-league pitcher recovering from a sore arm. He is backed by Galen Ramirez and the left-handed Harrison.
To bring his players closer to one another, Bergeron took them on a pre-season outing to Big Bear, where, he said, some of them saw snow for the first time.
Cerritos lost most of its players from a 16-9 team but the league coaches see the Dons, a traditional baseball power, as Gahr's top challenger. All-league outfielder John Hakopian, who hit .350, is back, as is pitcher-first baseman Greg Pilioglas. Coach Vern Brock is counting on senior pitcher David Lee, a left-hander who has not allowed an earned run in 17 pre-season innings. Brock's top newcomer on a good defensive team is shortstop Trevor Eldridge.
'League Is Very Even'
"The league is very even," Brock said. "Every team has a shot at the playoffs."
Downey, which finished second last year, lost all of its starters, but replacements come from a good JV team. Shortstop Ed Renteria and second baseman Steve White are key players for Coach Fred Yanez.
Paramount has a new coach, Rod Davis, an alumnus of the school who played minor-league baseball in the Dodgers organization. Davis impresses Gahr's Bergeron so much that Bergeron said, "He kind of scares me." The Pirates have three returning pitchers, Sal Curiel, Pat Sweet and Juan Torres.
Warren returns two dependable hitters in senior outfielders Andy Ippolito (.343 in league last season) and Chris Romero (.308). "Our season will depend upon development of first-year pitchers and our defense," said Coach Buck Taylor. Among the top new Bears is catcher Cullen Parrott, a transfer from Downey High.
Lynwood Coach Carl Buggs predicts his Knights will battle Warren and Downey for the league's third playoff spot. Lynwood was only 8-17 last year but returns its top hitter, senior outfielder Jon Pugrad, who hit .368 with 5 home runs and 31 RBIs. Third baseman Juan Carrillo (.320) is also back. Buggs lost his top pitcher, Mario Rodriquez, because of poor grades, but may get help on the mound from Juan Juarez, who was the freshman team's Most Valuable Player.
Dominguez, which finished in the cellar last season, has a new coach, Richard Narcisse, and a formidable left-handed pitcher, Ernesto Lara. A hard thrower with a good curve, Lara is called the best prospect in the league by Cerritos Coach Brock. A first baseman when he's not pitching, Lara is a good hitter, too, as is catcher Franco Benitez. SUBURBAN LEAGUE
Artesia returns seven starters and that could give Tony Guggiana's team the inside track for the league title. But Boyd Trimble, coach of defending champion Glenn, compounded the pre-season outlook when he picked Artesia fourth behind Mayfair, La Mirada and his team.
Several coaches say La Mirada will join Mayfair to challenge Artesia. La Mirada hosts Artesia in a key opener Friday.
Artesia is rated fifth in the Southern Section 2-A pre-season poll. Top returning players include catcher Todd Guggiana (.307), designated hitter Victor Matos (.345), first baseman Mike Lau (.270), outfielder Tim Armenta (.290) and pitchers Gunnar Seedborg (4-3, 3.85 ERA) and Brian Smith (5-1, 2.95 ERA).
Pitching may dominate the league, although Tony Guggiana claims, "Our pitching staff is a question mark."
Mayfair returns three pitchers, including Mark Beck, one of the league's best. La Mirada's Kelly Brooks posted a 2.68 ERA last year and teammate Bill Lange had a 3.66 ERA.
Bellflower's Mike Lemanski pitched a no-hitter and struck out 54 last season.
Norwalk has only three lettermen returning for first-year Coach Greg Gite--Sal Villanueva, who was all-league designated hitter as a freshman last year; catcher Mark Baker, second-team all-league last season, and Mike Troncoso, a converted outfielder who will play second base. WHITMONT LEAGUE
"It's too tough to call," said El Rancho's Ben Meza, echoing the sentiments of most of the other Whitmont League coaches. "Everyone will be improved. This league is going to be extremely tough this year."
Defending champion Pioneer, which went 16-6 a year ago, may have the edge. The Titans, rated sixth in the pre-season Southern Section poll, host La Serna in the opener as league play starts Friday.
"We look to score some runs, as we have some pretty fair hitters," said Titan Coach Anthony Gonzales. "I don't think we have the depth we had last season."
Pioneer has two top pitchers--junior Ted Moncibaez, who was 6-2 last year, and senior Mario Hernandez, who was 6-0 and batted .439.
Montebello Coach Tony Perez predicted his team will win the title. "We have strong pitching and excellent defense," Perez said. "Our question will be our hitting, but we've been working hard on that despite the rain."
Seven Starters Return
Bell Gardens returns seven starters. Coach Larry Willis feels the Lancers have a shot at the title too. "Our physical ability is there. . . . We have the team this year that can win and win big," he said. Bell Gardens has two of the league's top players in Javier Fimbres and John Bazan. Fimbres batted .412 last year with 31 RBIs, 11 doubles and 5 home runs. Bazan hit .390 and drove in 28 runs.
Whittier Coach Jerry Nerio also gives the edge to Pioneer. He sees a balanced league race because 75% of last year's players are returning. Among them is the Cards' Brad Schuler, named by a majority of the coaches as the likely MVP. The 6-1, 180-pound senior batted .485 and had 35 hits last season.
La Serna, a second-place finisher a year ago, may be the dark horse. Juniors Manny Cervantes, Mike Westmoreland and pitcher Rich Poliguin received all-league mention last season. The league's coaches say La Serna will have a solid team, but they disagree as to how high the Lancers will place. Most pick the Lancers for one of the three top spots.
Santa Fe Coach Mark Tamayo is optimistic, despite last year's 6-12 finish. "If we stay healthy we could be in the playoffs this year," he said. CAMINO REAL LEAGUE
Eight starters return at St. Anthony, which finished second in the league a year ago. The Saints were ranked ninth in the 1-A pre-season poll. Top returning players include pitcher Rudy Gardea (1.81 ERA) and infielder Rob Dolan (.404 batting average), both all-league last season. St. Bernard and Mary Star of the Sea are expected to battle the Saints.
Cantwell Coach Richard Straight, in his 10th season, believes Verbum Dei and Serra could surprise. As far as his team is concerned, however, Straight said: "We're very young. Only one senior will start. Our pitching is weak, but our defense has looked good."
Junior Ray Walker, who will play first base and pitch, has the most experience on the Cantwell team. He enters his third year on the varsity. Freshman David Diaz is expected to start at second base. ANGELUS LEAGUE
Defending league champion Mater Dei returns 13 lettermen and four starters from last year's 24-2 club, but the Monarchs are expected to feel the heat from St. Paul and Bishop Amat.
"With its outstanding hitting and pitching, Bishop Amat should win league," St. Paul Coach Leo Gutierrez said. "Mater Dei has the league's best pitching. We need to play well early in the league in order to challenge them."
Apparently, other coaches aren't taking St. Paul lightly. The Swordsmen are ranked fourth in the Southern Section 4-A pre-season poll. Mater Dei is ranked first.
Gutierrez hopes to advance his team into its 12th consecutive playoff berth. Three pitchers return--Art Salas, Mike Moore and Mando Ayala, who combined to win 12 games last year. Salas' record was only 6-4, but he had a 1.15 ERA, completed nine games and was all-league.
Despite dropping its opener, 19-4, to Jordan, second-year Pius X Coach Matt Moschetti feels his team will be "more competitive than in '85," when the Warriors were 3-17. Four starters return.
Next season the Warriors will be replaced in the Angelus League by St. Bernard. ACADEMY LEAGUE
Defending league champion Leffingwell Christian has a new coach in former assistant Paul Kosareff. Kosareff is expected to have little trouble in guiding the Lions through the traditionally weak league. Only pitcher Randy Wellen graduated from last year's 16-6 team, and four of the returning lettermen were all-league. The Lions, who hit .314 last season, are ranked third in the Small Schools pre-season poll.
As in past years, Avalon should be Leffingwell Christian's top competitor. The Lancers return four key players from a second-place team. Coach Jeff Evans begins his fifth year at the school. OLYMPIC LEAGUE
League coaches say the Olympic race will be more balanced this season than any in recent memory. They give defending champion Whittier Christian the edge over Orange Lutheran, although the Heralds lost three all-league players and their coach, Doug Domene. Whittier Christian, 19-3 last year, is ranked third in the 1-A pre-season poll.
Newcomer David Rackliffe will direct the Heralds. He inherits junior starting pitchers John Stapleton and Darrel Lancaster, who combined for a 12-1 record as sophomores. Juniors Mike Neal (.389, 17 stolen bases) and Aaron Arredondo (.343, 21 RBIs) also return.
Valley Christian also has a new coach, Ron Sjoerdsma, who feels his team "will finish in the top half of the league, especially if our pitchers stay healthy." Four starters return, including senior Mike Taylor, who hit .390 last year.
Richard Thomas is in his second season as coach at Brethren. He was thrust into the job with little notice a year ago and the team faltered to 3-17. Thomas, who is also the school's boys basketball coach, says things are looking better.
"Hopefully, we'll make the playoffs, but I don't think a league championship is possible," he said.
The Warriors have seven starters back, but none can pitch, Thomas said. That puts the pressure on sophomore Dave VanDerHam, who has been "the most consistent (pitcher) so far." CITY SCHOOLS
Bell Coach Bob Moroney, who guided the Eagles to a 24-8 record last season, said the six-team Eastern League race is a tossup.
"It's a battle between South Gate, Roosevelt, Garfield, Huntington Park and Bell," he said.
The staffs at the Southeast area's other two City Section schools, Huntington Park and South Gate, have different opinions about the race, which begins Wednesday.
Said South Gate's Gary Cordray: "Bell should win it; Roosevelt and Huntington Park should fight for second and third."
Coach Brian Ota of Huntington Park, however, predicts his team will finish first.
"We should be very competitive if there are no injuries and everyone stays eligible," he said.
Ota has six starters among 10 returning lettermen.
At Bell, Moroney (207-73-4) is trying for a fifth consecutive league title, which, he says, "can be obtained with dedication and leadership." Pitcher Tony Avila (8-3, 4 saves), first-team all-league last year, leads four returning starters.
Cordray sees a rebuilding year at South Gate, although four starters return. "We'll finish real low, like fifth or sixth," he said.
The Rams pin their hopes on senior pitcher Ken Clegg. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Clegg is considered a major-college prospect. He was 6-3 with a 1.16 ERA last season, and made all-city. OTHER SCHOOLS
In other leagues involving area teams:
Both Pioneer Baptist Coach Ted Drinkwater and Whitney Coach Bill Crissman predict first-place finishes for their Southern Section Small Schools Division teams. Whitney will be defending its Collegiate League title, while Pioneer Baptist enters the Express League for the first time.
Drinkwater is 17-2 in two years with the Patriots, who return three players from last year's 11-2
team--junior Fred Speck and sophomores James Silva and David Marquri. He expects strong pitching from Speck and Silva, but admits he has "a young team."
Crissman also has a young team, although senior pitcher Phil Astengo and junior pitcher Eli Chang return. The Wildcats boast a five-man pitching staff, which prompts Crissman to say, "We should win for the second straight year in our league and our hitting will determine how far we go in the playoffs."
In six years at St. John Bosco, Coach Ed Riley has compiled an 88-44-2 record. Several area coaches think the Braves will better last year's 20-5 record. The team finished in a tie for second place in the Del Rey League a year ago, but Riley said a league poll predicted the Braves will finish fourth or fifth.
With seven starters back, Bosco should have one of the best hitting teams in the Southern Section. The seven had an overall batting average of .373 last season. In its first three pre-season games, Bosco scored 30 runs. Junior Cary Windes, a second-team all-Southern Section selection, led the Braves last year with seven home runs and a .455 batting average.
Pitching Staff Has Graduated
But Riley must replace an entire pitching staff that graduated.
Schurr faces a stiff battle in the Foothill League. Second-year Coach Buzz Baviello has just three starters returning, in contrast with 1985 co-champions Alhambra and Hart, which return the majority of their players. Baviello thinks those two will fight for the league title and said his team faces third-place pressure from San Gabriel, which returns seven starters.
Returning for Schurr are seniors Gabe Muniz (.411) and Hubert Turner (.270) and junior Butch LeNoue (.304).
Centennial Coach James Wilkey faces a difficult task of building a program as a walk-on coach in the Pioneer League, which has been dominated by South Bay-area teams El Segundo and Leuzinger. El Segundo, which went 22-8 a year ago, is ranked third in the Southern Section 3-A pre-season poll. A traditional power, El Segundo is favored to win the title this year under Coach John Stevenson, who has a 26-year career record at the school of 536-213.