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SOUTHERN SECTION BASEBALL PREVIEWS : S.F. VALLEY LEAGUE

Bell-Jeff

COACH: Hal Krug, 11th season

LAST SEASON: 5-14-1; fifth in league at 5-9

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Seniors Mike Cesta and Rod Arancibia will be the only seasoned players on a young, inexperienced and rebuilding team. Cesta, one of six Bell-Jeff players to hit .300 or better last season, is the only returnee--four graduated in June and the other, Paul Izquierdo (.353), is academically ineligible. Cesta hit a team-high .406 last season and will be counted on for more this year. Arancibia was 4-5 with a 2.75 ERA and nine complete games. The only other seniors expected to crack the lineup are Russ Pisa or Tony Armendariz, who are competing in left field. Otherwise, the starters are apt to be underclassmen, including sophomores Tony Cesta, Mike’s brother, behind the plate and left-hander Brett Lindsey on the mound. Jason Stanley will replace his graduated brother, Tom, at shortstop and fellow juniors Kurt Pitino and Marvin Martinez are expected to start at second and third base, respectively. Steve Knezevich, a fast player with a good arm, according to Krug, will start in center field. Freshman Iggy Castro should also see plenty of time in the outfield.

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OUTLOOK: Krug had no qualms about his team’s chances. “We’re very young and inexperienced,” he said. “We’re going to need magical seasons from our seniors in order to challenge for a playoff spot. We know we have an uphill battle, but it should be an interesting and challenging season.”

Chaminade

COACH: Steve Costley, second season

LAST SEASON: 18-7-1; second in league at 11-2-1

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PLAYERS TO WATCH: With five starters--including its top starting pitcher--returning from a team that advanced to the second round of the Southern Section 2-A Division playoffs, Chaminade should be more balanced and experienced this season and capable of challenging Notre Dame for the league title. Seniors Tony Collatos, J.D. Choy, Greg Baumgartner and Pete Miller all started last season. Collatos, a center fielder, led the team in hitting (.417), was tied for the lead in runs scored (22) and doubles (five), and was second in steals (10). He also had 15 RBIs. Second baseman Choy hit .277--despite a slump at the end of the season--was tied with Collatos in runs scored and stole a team-high 16 bases. Choy, Collatos, Miller (.283) and junior Colin Havert should also give the Eagles improved baserunning. Baumgartner, a right-hander, was 4-2 with a 2.70 ERA last season. He also batted .317 and drove in 23 runs. Chris DeCristo is projected as the No. 2 pitcher and will be backed up by fellow left-handers Steve Sacchetti and Greg Galloway. Left fielder Jeff Burdick and catcher Justin Stark, up from the junior varsity, should give Chaminade potent three, four and five hitters sandwiched around Baumgartner. Sophomore Aaron Weiss will start at first base.

OUTLOOK: “I think it’s between us and Notre Dame,” Costley said of the league race. “I think Notre Dame would have to be considered the favorite, but I don’t see why we can’t challenge them for the league title. We’ve got a good combination of speed and power this season. I’d like to see it come down to the last game of the season.”

Harvard

COACH: Jim Brink, ninth season

LAST SEASON: 10-10-1; fourth in league at 7-6-1

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Although the Saracens don’t have any great players, according to Brink, they’ll possess an abundance of good players, including the No. 1 and No. 2 pitchers from last season as well as their No. 2 hitter. Bryan Jacobsen was 6-5 with a 2.58 ERA in 1988 and David Lee was 1-2 with a 3.82 ERA. Jacobsen is a power pitcher with a good fastball and an improved curve while Lee is a superb breaking-ball pitcher, according to Brink. Marty Holly, a three-sport star in football, soccer and baseball, hit .365 with four doubles, two home runs and 18 RBIs last season. The center fielder also scored 17 runs and stole 10 bases. Robby Thayer (.329, five doubles, 16 RBIs, 12 steals and 16 runs scored) will return at catcher. Adam Rowins, Jimmy Jun and Robert Moffitt will vie in left and David Nichol and John Lurvey will compete in right. Tony Choi, a junior, will start at third until senior Oscar Rodriguez recovers from a dislocated left elbow injured during the wrestling season. Jay Borenstein will start at shortstop and juniors Chris Stone and Mike Wolf will battle at first.

OUTLOOK: “Although we don’t have any outstanding players, we’ve got a lot of solid players who can do different things,” Brink said. “The key to our season may depend on how well each player plays his particular role.” Though Brink said Notre Dame should be favored for the league crown, he gave the Saracens a good shot at second.

Notre Dame

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COACH: Bob Mandeville, third season

LAST SEASON: 18-10; tied for first in league at 8-4

PLAYERS TO WATCH: With five starters returning from last year’s team--which lost to Culver City, 7-6, in the first round of the 5-A Division playoffs--the Knights are favored to win the inaugural San Fernando Valley League (4-A) title. Chad Ratliff, Kevin Crosby, Bobby Hughes, Chris Loman and Kevin Milligan all return to give Notre Dame a potent offense. Ratliff, the shortstop, batted .442 with five doubles, 17 RBIs and 28 runs scored. Crosby, the center fielder, batted .441 with eight doubles and 10 stolen bases. Hughes, a highly regarded catcher, hit .348 with seven doubles and 12 RBIs. Milligan, a junior, is a two-year starter at first base who drove in 20 runs last season. Senior Steve Martinez, sophomore Vinnie Orlando and junior Chris Prince will start at second base, third base and right field. Pitching is one of the few areas where the Knights are inexperienced, but Mandeville expressed confidence in sophomores Cary Wichman and Steve Colella. Both are hard-throwing right-handers. Juniors Mickey McGuigan, Anthony Fanara and Greg Andrachick will vie for the designated-hitter spot.

OUTLOOK: “We’re very balanced offensively,” Mandeville said. “Last year, the upper part of our lineup had a tendency to carry us. This year, we’re going to be strong all the way through.” Despite the improved hitting, Mandeville doesn’t expect to waltz through league play. “We’re not going to take the league lightly,” he said. “To say we’re going to walk away with the league title would be ridiculous.”

St. Genevieve

COACH: Kevin Kane, second season

LAST SEASON: 20-3-1; first in league at 13-0-1

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Although the Valiants lost seven of nine starters to graduation in June, their top pitcher and hitter return. Roland De La Maza and Joe Cascione, both selected to Cal-Hi Sports’ all-state medium schools team and to the Southern Section 2-A Division first team, are back. De La Maza (6-0, 180) had 126 strikeouts in 79 innings last season and posted an 8-1 record. The right-hander’s ERA of 0.80 led the Valley area and he pitched eight complete games, allowing only 49 hits and 23 walks. De La Maza also batted .426 with four triples, four home runs and 23 RBIs. Cascione, a shortstop, was a dangerous leadoff hitter with a .500 average, nine doubles, five triples, 30 runs scored and 29 RBIs. Both players have improved, according to Kane, but the rest of the starters will be new faces. Herman Merchan, a junior, will start at catcher and be the No. 2 pitcher behind De La Maza. Mike Cassidy and Steve Perez will start at second base and center field, and sophomores John Smith and Carlos Concha will battle at third. Junior Mike Hoffman will start in left field.

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OUTLOOK: “We’re going to be good up the middle, but questionable on the corners,” Kane said. “We’re going to have a lot of inexperienced players at several positions. How they develop could determine how well we finish in league.” Despite the presence of De La Maza and Cascione, the Santa Fe League’s most valuable pitcher and player, Kane said the Valiants will be fighting with La Salle and Harvard for the third playoff spot behind Notre Dame and Chaminade.

FRONTIER LEAGUE

Agoura

COACH: John Crow, fourth season

LAST SEASON: 10-10-2; tied for second in league at 5-5-2

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Crow expected to have a solid pitching staff with returning senior Dave Aronowitz and junior Ken Teasley up from the junior varsity. But Teasley is academically ineligible, leaving Crow with a big void. “That really hurt us,” Crow said. “I thought our pitching would be OK, but now I’m not so sure.” Aronowitz, a control pitcher, was 1-3 with a 3.47 earned-run average last season and has improved, according to Crow, but he cannot pitch every game. Therefore, much of Agoura’s success will depend on its offense. But the Chargers lost three of their top four hitters to graduation, including Mike Maggiora, an all-league selection who batted .465 with seven doubles, five home runs and 18 runs batted in. Brian Smith (.431), however, will return. Smith, a junior third baseman, had 12 doubles and a team-high 27 RBIs last season for the Chargers, who lost to Duarte, 6-5, in the first round of the Southern Section 2-A Division playoffs. Other returning starters include junior Josh Smaler at catcher and senior Mark Costas in left field. Seniors Nelson Townes (second base) and Chris Pittinger (outfield) also started last year, but both players just finished playing in the 1-A soccer playoffs and will have to work their way into the lineup. For the moment, seniors Zac Miller and Steve Klein will start in center and left fields.

OUTLOOK: Because of their lack of pitching depth, the Chargers will need to score an abundance of runs to be successful. “We’re going to have to put a lot of guys on base and score a lot of runs,” Crow said. “We’re going to have to be very efficient when we get guys on base. We can’t expect to win games by scores of 3-2 or 4-3.” Crow added that Santa Clara should be the league favorite and that Calabasas is vastly improved.

Calabasas

COACH: Bob Wade, second season

LAST SEASON: 9-11-2; tied for second in league at 5-5-2

PLAYERS TO WATCH: With only three starters--catcher Dave Kalman, third baseman Eric Umemoto and pitcher Dan Glassman--returning from last year’s team, the majority of the lineup will be composed of underclassmen promoted from the junior varsity. Kalman, an all-league selection, hit .442 and stole eight bases last season. Umemoto batted .333. Glassman, another all-league selection, was 4-4 with a 2.80 ERA and had 70 strikeouts in 50 innings. Wade is searching for a No. 2 starter among freshman Brett Farlow, junior Eric Rothman and senior Scott Faer. Second baseman Brett Resnick will provide short relief for the Coyotes, who lost to California, 17-0, in the first round of last year’s 3-A playoffs. Tom Lynch and Jody Wimmer will round out the infield at first base and shortstop. Lynch is expected to bat fifth in the lineup behind Kalman and Glassman. The outfield will consist of sophomore Tom Hoover in center, senior letterman Mark Hansen in left and junior Cary Brous in right.

OUTLOOK: “Our battery will be the nucleus around which we’ll build our team,” Wade said. “I think we can be better than last year’s team, but we’re going to be much younger. We don’t have a lot of experience or depth, so that could hurt us. It’s not like I’ve got a solid backup for every position out there.”

ALPHA LEAGUE

L.A. Baptist

COACH: Dave Phillips

LAST SEASON: 2-12-2; sixth in league at 1-8-1

PLAYERS TO WATCH: The Knights are led by Shane Wright at shortstop, who is probably the best athlete in the school, according to Phillips. Other returning starters are senior Mark Phillips at first, junior Reid Chobanian at second and senior Bryant Lykes at third. Junior Colyn Van Buren will get the start at catcher. The outfield consists of junior Chris Robinson in left, junior Paul Berry in right and senior Dave Garcia in center. The pitching staff will consist of seniors David Ophus, Dave Unter, and Wright.

OUTLOOK: “Our team speed is great with Garcia, Wright and Van Buren in the lineup, so we should do very well offensively,” Phillips said. “We hit .375 as a team in summer ball and we have the pitching to keep us in the ballgame.”

Montclair Prep

COACH: Walt Steele

LAST SEASON: 11-10; first in league at 9-1

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Keyaan Cook, a junior, returns for his third varsity season and is the cornerstone of the offense. Sophomore Chad Knighton will replace Pat Houston at shortstop. Two other sophomores--Brent Polacheck at catcher and Andy Shaw at first base--are also likely starters. Senior Chad Calabria anchors the young infield at second. The outfield features speedy J. T. Billingslea in left and Leleen Sparks in center. David Shmaess or Jason Gerber will start in right. The pitching staff will consist of senior Chris Anderson, junior Kevin Grant and junior Scott Saklad.

OUTLOOK: “With a young, but talented team, we look to have a good season,” Steele said. “I look for us to be better in pitching.”

Village Christian

COACH: Mike Henzie

LAST SEASON: 9-11; fourth in league at 4-6

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Village Christian has its entire infield back except at third, where sophomore Matt Smay takes over. Other starters include junior David Brownfield at catcher, senior Kevin Ebenhoch at first base and senior Scott Danielson at second. Danielson batted .390 last season. The all-senior outfield will have Paul Heater in right, Greg Lloyd in center and Mike Curl in left. The pitching staff consists of Matt Bates, Smay, Curl and Drew Martenson.

OUTLOOK: “Everyone is pounding the ball,” Henzie said. “We should win 15 to 18 ballgames this year with the talent we have returning and the pitching we have.”

DELPHIC LEAGUE

Buckley

COACH: Dan Gilmartin, first season

LAST SEASON: 2-17; sixth in league at 0-10

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Despite Buckley’s winless league season a year ago, Gilmartin is brimming with optimism. Fourteen of his 16 players are seniors and 11 have varsity experience. The players had talent enough to win last season but lacked proper instruction and motivation, according to Gilmartin. “We actually can play with anybody in the league,” he said. “I think we can finish better than .500.” Catcher John Molina batted .464 in league play last season and will lead the offense along with Adam Glickman, a first baseman who hit .310 and drove in seven runs in 10 league games. Gilmartin is counting on improvement from third baseman Ponti Lambros (.285) and right fielder Spencer Rosen (.250). Gilmartin, who was the junior varsity coach two years ago, has coaxed second baseman Jesse Stills and shortstop Grant Chang, who didn’t play last season, back to the team for their senior seasons. The pitching staff is thin. Center fielder Luka Pecel, who has never pitched before, may become the No. 1 starter.

OUTLOOK: Gilmartin, 28, expects to call upon his own playing experience as a motivating tool. Gilmartin was signed as a shortstop out of Monroe High in 1978 by the Milwaukee Brewers and played for 5 1/2 years in the minors. “I think this team has the talent and tools, so it’s just a matter of putting it in the right direction,” he said.

Faith Baptist

COACH: Harry Morgan, first season

LAST SEASON: 14-9-1; fourth in league at 6-4

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Graduation cost the Contenders their top two pitchers from a year ago--Shaik Nabi and Richard Leon. A year later, the two most important arms on the team belong to freshmen: right-hander Darren Wyre and left-hander Jeremy Pop. “I have to use them,” Morgan said. “We don’t have enough arms.” Junior third baseman Wesley Doll has been asked to pitch, too. And 6-4 junior Bob Reed, who has never pitched, will become the top reliever. Fortunately, the team’s best player will handle the untested staff. In a fit of overstatement, Morgan calls senior Peter Lutz, a league wrestling champion at 165 pounds, one of the Valley’s premier catchers. He also likes senior center fielder Daniel Montgomery. “He’s got an excellent arm and good speed,” he said. The strength of the infield is up the middle in sophomore shortstop John Miller and senior second baseman James Kim.

OUTLOOK: Morgan, who has an .800 winning record in 10 years as coach of the school’s 8-man football program, concedes that his team shapes up as a question mark. “Expectations? I have no idea. We’re a mystery,” he said.

TRI-VALLEY LEAGUE

Moorpark

COACH: Mario Porto, fourth season

LAST SEASON: 7-13; fifth place in league at 4-8

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Leading the offense is junior Frank Fernandez, an all-league selection last year who will play both first base and shortstop. Fernandez batted .397 last year with 17 stolen bases. Junior Robert Hernandez, who hit .388, will share time at first and also pitch. At second base will be junior Mike Zamrock, who should add to a strong infield. Playing primarily third base will be junior Mike Granderson and senior Jamie Kohls will handle the catching. Senior Scott Semer will head a young outfield. Hernandez and Keith Orford will handle the pitching.

OUTLOOK: “I’ve got some good talent and the kids from JV will make for one of the best teams we’ve had in a while,” Porto said. “We will definitely improve over last year’s finish if we can keep our pitchers healthy. I have a good group of kids and we should be in the top two at the end of the year.”

Oak Park

COACH: Ron Veres, third season

LAST SEASON: 14-7; third place in league at 8-4

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Returning all-league players Scott Ziegler (senior pitcher) and Todd Creason (senior shortstop) and Gary Silverman (senior third baseman) form the backbone of this year’s team. Expected to lead a young outfield is Jason Kane, who started last year as a freshman. Senior Mark Karr, a relief pitcher last year, will move into the starting rotation. Senior Mike Benjamin will handle the catching duties. Expected to contribute from last year’s junior varsity are Todd Bachmeier, Erikk Cass, Ron Schaffer, and Dan Schaffer.

OUTLOOK: “We’ll be strong with two returning pitchers,” Veres said. “Fillmore and St. Bonaventure will be the teams to beat probably, but we’ll be in the hunt if things fall into place.”


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