SOUTHERN SECTION BASEBALL PREVIEWS : CHANNEL LEAGUE
COACH: Stan Hedegard, 6th season
LAST SEASON: 20-6-2; 2nd in league, 10-2-2
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Left fielder Anthony Morales was a first-team all-league selection who batted .408 last year. Senior left-hander John Cooper was 3-1 in league play last season, earning second-team honors. Junior right-hander Nick Houchin was impressive at the junior-varsity level last season. Junior Garrett Richins will start at first base and senior Tommy Stork, who has been injured the past three years, returns at second base. Sophomore Aaron Triana, who played at the freshman level last year, will start at shortstop. Senior Jim Seguine will start at third base and senior Paul Wood, a part-time starter last year, will start in center field. Senior Steve Ledesma will start in right field and senior Chuck Mullaney will catch.
OUTLOOK: Hedegard feels like Old Mother Hubbard. “Our cupboard is really bare,” he said. Morales is the only returning starter on a team laden with inexperience. “It’s a great group of kids, but we have a lot of kids getting their first taste of varsity baseball,” Hedegard said. “The players from the JV are untried and we’re very thin.”
COACH: Reg Welker, 12th season
LAST SEASON: 12-11-1; 4th in league, 7-6-1
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Senior catcher Jim Pettit hit .373 last season. Senior center fielder Chris Baker is one of Ventura County’s best outfielders. “He gets to balls that others don’t get to,” Welker said. Richard Hernandez, who was academically ineligible part of last season but hit .406 in league play, was a second-team all-league designated-hitter. Senior Jose Reyes returns to left field. Junior Mike Ortega, who lettered as a sophomore, will start at first base. Senior Jack Brown will start at third base. Senior shortstop Marco Grajales broke his throwing hand and will miss three to four weeks, and sophomore Jesse Olivares will fill in at short. Senior Carl Whitnall (3-3, 5.02 earned-run average) returns to the starting rotation along with junior right-hander Frank Adame (4-3, 3.15 ERA), who likely will be the team’s No. 1 starter. Grajales, who was 5-0 on the junior varsity, and Olivares will add pitching depth.
OUTLOOK: Hueneme will have a strong pitching staff that will be bolstered by the return of Grajales. “If our pitching progresses the way we feel it can, we feel we can challenge for the championship,” Welker said. “We have five good starters and there’s not much difference between any of them.” Hueneme has not won a Channel League title since 1981 and last qualified for the playoffs in 1988.
COACH: Tony Diaz, 5th season
LAST SEASON: 14-10; 6th in league, 4-10
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Senior center fielder Steve Meek hit .412 and was an All-Ventura County selection last season. All-county shortstop Jeff Tinoco, the team’s top hitter with a .420 average, is academically ineligible, leaving the position open to sophomores Rueben Torres and Nick Rodriguez. Senior catcher Tim Frazer and third baseman Peter Vargas are returning starters. Meek, a left-hander who was 2-0 last year, and Vargas (2-0) also will pitch. Sophomore right-hander Mando Carrillo will add pitching depth. “By the time he is a senior, he could be the best I’ve ever had here,” Diaz said. Brian Lane, a transfer from Oregon, will start at second base. Two-year letterman Mike Mendoza, a junior, and senior Ed Reyes will split time at first base and outfield. Meek, sophomore right fielder Larry Bumpus, and left fielder Hector Canales provide the Yellowjackets with exceptional speed.
OUTLOOK: The Yellowjackets are inexperienced, have very little power, and may be a year away from contending. But they will be a pesky group with good speed. “We’re young, but we’re working real well together,” Diaz said. Oxnard will use four players from a freshman team that finished 10-4. “We’ll probably struggle early, but we won’t be a doormat,” Diaz said.
COACH: Rich Duran, 5th season
LAST SEASON: 18-6-2; 1st in league, 11-1-2
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Shortstop Dmitri Young, a four-year varsity starter, three-time state player of the year in his class and Baseball America magazine’s top high school prospect in the nation, led area players with a .588 batting average last year. He has made a commitment to the University of Miami. Young--who is nearing Southern Section records for hits, doubles, and runs--has learned to switch-hit and likely will bat second in the lineup. Other first-team all-league returnees include first baseman Mike Mitchell (.457, seven home runs, 44 runs batted in) second baseman Angel Lopez (.333) and third baseman Jon McMullen (.535). Catcher Sam Garcia is a three-year varsity player. Senior center fielder Jamie Liddell hit .395 and senior Jeff Flores, who hit .421 as a part-time starter at second, will move to left field. Senior right-hander Frank Tinoco and Mitchell are the top pitchers.
OUTLOOK: Seven starters return from a team that batted .400 last season and won its second league championship in the past three years, only to be shut out for the only time all season in the first round of the 4-A Division playoffs. Rio Mesa hit .427 in league play and set a league record with 175 runs, an average of 12.5 a game. “Offense will carry this team,” Duran said. “I think we’ll be able to do some things.” The question mark for the Spartans, who have won nine of the past 12 league titles, lies in their pitching. Tinoco and Mitchell, who are both 6-foot-4, throw hard, but the Spartans need to fill the void left by the graduation of David Soliz (9-2).
COACH: Dan Smith, 12th season
LAST SEASON: 12-14-1; 3rd in league, 8-5-1
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Senior second baseman Matt Garrett hit .340 last season. Junior Chris Mace will start at third base for the second consecutive year. Sophomore Derek Swafford, who started at shortstop as a freshman and hit .360, will move to center field. Senior Jeff Dietz is a strong defensive catcher. Senior John Boggess, a transfer from Channel Islands, will start at shortstop. Junior left fielder Trevor Rumsey and junior designated-hitter Travis Walters add speed to the lineup. Senior Jeff True will play right field. Left-hander Eric Rafter and right-handers Brian Walters and Matt Tracy lead the pitching staff.
OUTLOOK: Ventura expects to challenge for its first league title since 1987, despite the graduation of All-Ventura County outfielder Anthony Romero and pitcher Tim Cass, who was 8-3. “I think we’ll be better than we were last year,” Smith said. “On the mound, we’ll be stronger and have more depth. We were limited in that area last year.”