Talk to any Orange Empire Conference baseball coach about his nonconference record and he’ll sheepishly explain that it really doesn’t mean all that much.
Saddleback is 12-0 and Coach Jack Hodges says the team is faster and the pitching is a little better, but he isn’t willing to make any statement stronger than “we’ll see where we’re at once we start playing in conference games.”
The reason for the caution is that the conference, which starts play Saturday, is clearly the best in the state. Rancho Santiago and Cypress have won five of the last six state titles.
Here’s a look at the conference teams:
Cypress (13-2)--The Chargers won the conference title last year in an upset. Sophomore Greg Jacobs, an outfielder and relief pitcher, returns as do outfielders Matt Roman and Scott Daeley, who are as swift as they come on the bases or in the outfield.
Also returning are shortstop Junior Rodriguez, third baseman Randy Case, designated hitter Brian Flanagan and Craig Kuzmic, who struggled in the outfield last year but has moved to catcher.
Freshman pitcher Richard Sundstrom and sophomore Darin Reintjes are each 3-0.
Fullerton (12-3)--Fullerton started the week batting .367 and has had several impressive performances. Sophomore third baseman Keith Jones is batting .472 with 25 runs batted in. Freshman outfielder Bo Bryant is hitting .500 (27 for 54) with 15 RBIs. Erik Gomez, a sophomore first baseman, has 20 RBIs and freshman second baseman Nick Garcia has driven in 15.
Sophomore right-hander Rick Parmenter is 3-0 with an 0.83 earned-run average and freshman left-hander Ray Kennedy is 3-1.
Golden West (7-5)--Ken Sundstrom, a sophomore third baseman, is batting .449, and leads the team with 22 hits. Freshman shortstop Josh Roberts is hitting .388 and first baseman Kevin Stuart has a team-high 14 RBIs.
Jared de La chica, a freshman outfielder, is hitting .457 and has scored 22 runs. Jarred Jones and Mike Tyler, also outfielders, are each batting .357.
Kevin Loken, a sophomore right-hander, is 2-0 and Stuart is 1-0. Golden West’s pitchers have given up only two home runs.
Orange Coast (7-7)--Darren Chandler, a freshman outfielder, started the week hitting .409. John Lukin, a freshman catcher, is at .371. Chad Johnson, a freshman utility player, has five home runs and 14 RBIs.
Sophomore Craig Ritter has moved from shortstop to second base and Travis Clutter (.321) is back at third and utility player Chris Ponchak is hitting .327.
Bryan Moore, a sophomore right-hander who has signed with the University of Houston, is 1-0 with a 2.61 ERA. Jamie Surdock, a sophomore right-hander, is 3-1.
Rancho Santiago (12-1)--Coach Don Sneddon isn’t sure if his team has enough pitching to win the conference title, but he said the same thing last year. He was right. The Dons tied for second, then won the state title.
Left-hander Matt Ward (2-0), and right-handers Jeff Bowman (3-0) and Tim Larsen (3-0) have all pitched well early.
Kevin Burford, a freshman outfielder, has five home runs, and sophomore first baseman Kevin Duck has four. Outfielder Joe Secoda and third baseman Erik Sobek, both starters last season, are back.
Outfielder Rick Gonzalez, a freshman who was a standout at Tustin High last year, is one of several talented first-year players at Rancho Santiago.
Riverside (14-0)--The Tigers, averaging 11 runs a game, are led by freshman designated hitter Greg Dobbs (.550 in 10 games) and freshman second baseman Jason Clements (.464).
Jeff Bajenaru has driven in 19 runs and Jason Bowring has 18 RBIs. Both are outfielders.
Ruben Jurado and Rafael Rigueiro, both sophomore right-handers, are each 3-0.
Saddleback (12-0)--The Gauchos have been to the final day of regional play the last two seasons and seem ready to take the next step. Kirk Bolling, a freshman transfer from Cal State Fullerton, is hitting .454 with five home runs and 22 RBIs. Kyle Kane, a sophomore transfer from Nevada, is hitting .467, has scored 19 runs and driven in 16.
Greg Ferrell, a sophomore outfielder, is hitting .487 with eight doubles and 16 RBIs.
Pat Versluis, a freshman right-hander, is 3-0 and sophomore right-hander Ryan Track is 2-0. Freshman right-hander Mike Leinen is 1-0 with a save and has allowed no runs in 14 innings.