Dissension in picking the teams most likely to contend in Metro Conference baseball this season begins after the hands-down favorite is mentioned.
The choice of the conference--merged from last year’s five-team 3-A Mesa League and five-team 2-A South Bay League--is defending South Bay champion Castle Park, which lost to Mission Bay in the San Diego Section 2-A title game last year.
“Castle Park is the most experienced,” Bonita Vista Coach Ron Pietila said.
“Castle Park has all the guns,” Sweetwater Coach Jim Mann said.
“Castle Park is really tough,” Marian Coach George Milke said, “I don’t see anyone beating them.”
Picked to finish behind the Trojans, but not necessarily in this order, are Sweetwater, Southwest, Bonita Vista and Coronado.
Last season: 17-11, 8-5 Mesa League (second, tie).
Coach: Ron Pietila.
Top returners: Jeff Bogle (senior, P); Craig Caitlin (senior, P); Jimmy Ilusorio (senior, 1B/OF); John Solomon (sophomore, P/OF); Casey June (junior, SS).
Top newcomers: None.
Outlook: Duplicating last year’s second-place performance in a conference twice the size will be difficult. Pietila says the Barons’ major strengths are athletes and arms. Getting them to coordinate with their minds is what worries him. “We go from the penthouse to the outhouse,” he said. Case in point: In a recent Lions tournament doubleheader, Bonita Vista iced a victory in the first game on a 5-4-3 double play, then turned around and committed 12 errors in the second. There are only three seniors on a roster that includes four starting sophomores.
Last season: 25-5-1, 11-2 South Bay League (first).
Coach: Bob Korzep.
Top returners: Juan Beltran (senior, SS/P); Joe Carrillo (senior, 1B/P); Chris Morris (senior, OF); Jackie Sosa (junior, 3B).
Top newcomers: Benjamin Gil (sophomore, 3B/P, transfer from Sweetwater).
Outlook: Beltran is the key to the Trojans unlocking a section championship. Last year, he was a section first-team pick and the league’s player of the year. He batted .379 with five home runs and 36 RBIs and compiled a 9-2 pitching record with a 1.10 ERA. Joining him at pitcher are Carrillo (3-1, 2.99), junior Bobby Cardenas, transfer Gil (7-4, 2.33) and Sergio Hicks (9-0, 2.64), who’s nursing three broken ribs.
Last season: 14-12, 11-2 Mesa League (first).
Coach: Dick Barcus.
Top returners: Alex Garcia (senior, LF); Garrard Galvan (senior, P); Cesar Martinez (sophomore, P).
Top newcomers: David Dixon (junior, DH); Donny Edwards (sophomore, C).
Outlook: “Hurtin’ for certain,” best describes the current state of the Spartans, winners of four of the last six Mesa championships. With its top three pitchers out, two temporarily and one for the season--Derek Chapman and Martinez will be back, but Steve Trainor is likely to be lost with a shoulder injury--Chula Vista looks to Galvan and Sean Desmond. Edwards replaces catcher Brandon Gregg, out with a knee injury.
Last season: 16-10, 7-6 South Bay League (second, tie).
Coach: Ron Smock.
Top returners: Jason Fledderjohn (junior, P); Rich Bledsoe (junior, 1B/P); Ted Forney (senior, C); Kirk Duhala (junior, OF).
Top newcomers: None.
Outlook: The Islanders have established talents in Fledderjohn and Bledsoe, but repeating last season’s second-place performance would be a major accomplishment in the expanded league. Fledderjohn, (4-1 with a 3.03 ERA, .356 with five home runs and 15 RBIs) will be joined by Bledsoe (.370), Forney (.288) and Duhala (.286).
Last season: 8-14, 7-6 South Bay League (second, tie).
Coach: John Baumgarten.
Top returners: Chad Boyd (senior, SS); Martin Villanueva (junior, P/OF); David Chapman (junior, OF); Larry Beebe (senior, 2B).
Top newcomers: Jose Silva (sophomore, P).
Outlook: Run production isn’t a problem for the Lancers--they were pool winners in the Lions tournament with 29 runs in three games--but errors have diminished their effectiveness. “We have as many errors as we do hits,” Baumgarten said. Martin Villanueva (.280 last year) is hitting .500 now, and Boyd is a three-year letterman.
Last season: 7-19, 3-10 South Bay League (fourth). Coach: Alex Santana.
Top returners: Tim O’Neal (junior, P); Francisco Mondragon (senior, P); Jose Galaz (senior, OF).
Top newcomers: Miguel Martinez (senior, P).
Outlook: The Mariners will be hard-pressed to improve with a lineup featuring eight new starters. O’Neal should add some stability. He appeared in 17 games last year (3-9, 5.57 ERA), batted .273 and drove in 10 runs. Galaz hit .140 last year and must improve to his .385 sophomore season form.
Last season: 4-19-1, 2-11 South Bay League (fifth).
Coach: George Milke.
Top returners: Leo Ortiz (senior, P); Alex Guevara (senior, P); Beto Martinez (sophomore, IF); Jamaar Brown (sophomore, OF).
Top newcomers: Hector Concepcion (freshman, OF).
Outlook: How much the Crusaders will improve depends on how much they improve defensively and whether they can gain some intensity, according to Milke. The early 2-7 record indicates there’s still much left to do. Ortiz and Guevara hit .350 last year.
Last season: 14-10, 7-6 Mesa League (fourth).
Coach: Manny Hermosillo.
Top returners: Alberto Candelaria (senior, P/SS); Chris Charfauros (senior, CF); Junior Manrique (senior, P/1B); Miguel Perez (junior, C).
Top newcomers: John Diehi (senior, RF).
Outlook: The Aztecs return six players, four starters. Candelaria is Montgomery’s pitching mainstay. He was the ERA champion of the league (0.53) and hit .350 last year and is 2-1 this season. The Aztecs will not hit for power, Hermosillo said, and will instead have to rely on ground balls and line drives.
Last season: 2-21, 1-12 Mesa League (fifth).
Coach: Tom Hernandez.
Top returners: Fernando Ontiveros (senior, P); Armando Magallones (senior, P/3B); Tony Delatorre (junior, P/2B).
Top newcomers: Victor Caracoza (freshman, P).
Outlook: The new and improved Raiders are 6-3 and were surprise winners of the GMC tournament under first-year coach Hernandez, a former Mexican Winter League coach. “It’s a great thing for our program,” said Tony Maio, the junior varsity coach. There are only four seniors on the 13-member Southwest roster. Caracoza, at 14 the youngest team member, was the winning pitcher in the GMC title game.
Last season: 15-14-1, 8-5 Mesa League (second, tie).
Coach: Jim Mann.
Top returners: Larry Meza (junior, SS/P); Issac Bruce (junior, 3B/P); Walter Magallon (senior, C); Joe Picone (senior, CF/P).
Top newcomers: Lorenzo Inzunza (freshman, OF/P); Yoshi Ohkawa (junior, IF).
Outlook: Pitching appears to be the Red Devils’ strength with Vicente Garcia up from the junior varsity to join the strong trio of Meza, Bruce and Picone, three of four returning starters. Star catcher Juan Price is gone, but Magallon, a designated hitter last year, has fit easily into his new role. Meza, who hit .261 last year and was an all-section pick, led the league in walks and stolen bases.