The Burbank High baseball team got a taste of what it takes to compete with the top teams in the Pacific League last season.
The Bulldogs tied for second place with Arcadia and were competitive with champion Crescenta Valley.
“What we were able to accomplish last season and how we played in league, that is something that we’re looking to build on,” Burbank Coach Bob Hart said. “We are looking to continue that success in league and hopefully carry that over to the playoffs.”
Providence is also coming off a successful year after taking a season off from Liberty League competition. Burroughs returns a solid group from last season’s playoff squad and Bellarmine-Jefferson is adapting with a small squad under the direction of a new coach.
Here is a closer look at the teams.
The Bulldogs (13-10) did lose some key players to graduation. That included first-team all-league pitcher Daniel Starkand, who was 5-3 with a 0.60 earned-run average in 58 innings pitched in league. He surrendered just eight runs (five unearned) and had five shutouts. In addition, he had 41 strikeouts and walked 12. The team also lost all-league catcher Paul Frias (.263 with 15 hits, 11 runs batted in, 12 runs scored and 10 stolen bases).
“We have a very good group and we return a lot of starters from last season,” Hart said. “We have guys out there who know what they’re doing and that makes for some good practices.”
One of the key returners is first-team all-league standout Dylan Mersola. Last season, the shortstop batted .403 with 27 hits, six doubles, 14 RBI, 12 walks and an on-base percentage of .500. He also stole 13 bases in 14 attempts.
“In my years of coaching I have never named a team captain because I feel it leads to separation,” Hart said. “But if I had to make someone captain for the first time it would be Dylan.”
Also returning to bolster the Burbank offense is senior outfielder Ricky Perez, who hit .323 with 20 hits, 16 runs scored, 12 RBI, 17 walks and nine stolen bases.
Playing first for the Bulldogs will be Harrison Hernandez, John White will be at third, the catchers will be Hector Rodriguez and Sam McKinnon and Chris Okimoto and Joe Bogenschutz will be at second base. Joining Perez in the outfield will be Ian McKinnon, Sebby Santoro and Angel Roman.
On the mound, the Bulldogs will go with Angel Villagran, Gavin Bushey, Shaun Troy and Martin Silva, among others, as the team is going to “pitch by committee,” according to Hart.
With his returning talent, Hart said he expects to compete for a Pacific League championship.
“It’s going to be the usual suspects,” Hart said of the competition. “CV and Arcadia should be up there, along with Burroughs and Pasadena.”
Like Burbank, Burroughs (12-14) returned to the playoffs last season after missing the postseason the previous year. After the program was shut down in 2011 because of an underage drinking scandal, coach Kiel Holmes came in, straightened things out and helped lead the Indians make it to the postseason.
“We did lose a bunch from last year, but we also return a strong group with some pretty good players,” Holmes said. “The guys who we got back were some key guys from last year. For them to just get the experience that they got last year, we’re hoping that is going to pay off this season.”
Returning to pace the offense is senior shortstop Brian Pozos, who earned first-team all-league honors last season. Pozos batted .353 and had a .532 OBP with 11 runs scored, seven RBI and nine stolen bases in league.
“He is really a complete player,” Holmes said of Pozos. “He put on some muscle in the weight room during the offseason and he’s gotten faster as well.”
At first base for Burroughs will be senior Patrick Christopher and sophomore Noah Haddad, the catcher will be senior Chris Davies, at third will be junior Anthony Robles and senior Luis Pereyra — when he’s not pitching — and Miles Haddad will be at second. Patrolling the outfield will be senior Jimmy Cramer, senior Brandon Ortega, junior Cameron Rodriguez (a transfer from Sherman Oaks Notre Dame) and senior Akira Abderrahman.
Along with Pereyra, Ortega, Rodriguez, senior Daniel Barraza and sophomore Thomas Wilson will see time on the mound.
Holmes is also looking for good things from junior Tyler Renta, who can play behind the dish or in the outfield.
Having gotten back to the playoffs last season, Holmes said his team has higher expectations this year.
“The goal this year is to win league,” he said. “With all the time and effort these boys have put in, anything less than that would be a disappointment. In the Pacific League, you just have to go out there and beat the teams you’re supposed to beat and be competitive with the teams that are at the top of the league.”
The Pioneers enjoyed a remarkable turnaround after dropping out of the Liberty League for the 2012 season. Under the direction of coach Steven Knez, Providence was one of the top two teams in the Freelance Division.
The Pioneers ended the season with a 9-4 record, the most wins by the program in a decade. That was a substantial improvement from a 2011 season that saw Providence go 0-12.
“Last year was something to definitely build on,” Knez said. “We did drop out of the conference and we played a weaker schedule. But this year we’re playing a tougher schedule and we are hoping that we are going to be able to continue to be successful.
“I have a great freshman class this year and it’s a group of players who have baseball experience. In the past, a lot of the players didn’t have that experience. But we are finally getting baseball players into the program.”
One of Pioneers’ key returners is senior shortstop/pitcher Aaron Zeigler. Knez said he will rely on Zeigler to be a steadying force on offense as well as in the field.
Junior returner Mason Inumerable will play the infield as well as pitch for the Pioneers. Newcomers who could see their share of playing time are freshmen Sean Holt (pitcher/first base), Thomas Keller (catcher/pitcher) and Daniel Caetta (pitcher/third base).
Back in the Liberty League this season, Knew said he is looking forward to see how his team will perform and maybe it can qualify for a postseason spot.
“What’s good is that we go back to the Liberty League and powerhouse Viewpoint isn’t in our league any longer,” Knez said. “I can’t predict a league title this season, but if we keep getting the players we might just be able to win one in the coming years.”
Under former coach Kiko Garcia, the Guards went 4-13 last season and finished fourth in the five-team Santa Fe League with a 3-9 mark. The team also didn't make the postseason.
It was the first time in 10 years that the Guards were shut out of the CIF Southern Section playoffs.
Garcia stepped down at the end of the 2012 season.
Marty Marquardt is hoping he can help the Guards get back to their previous winning ways, as the 2001 graduate of St. Francis High is in the midst of his first season.
“This has been a good experience and hopefully it’s made me a better coach,” Marquardt said. “I’ve gone back to a fundamental type of coaching for a lot of the guys who might not have that much experience. But the guys have responded well and we’re coming along.
“We have a small team, so we’ll have a lot of guys playing a lot of different positions.”
Among the Guards players who doesn’t need the fundamental tutoring is senior catcher Mitch Kellogg, who is in his fourth year of varsity experience and who will also pitch. Marquardt said having a seasoned player behind the dish will be a stabling force for Bell-Jeff.
“I just wish we could have Mitch pitch to Mitch,” Marquardt said. “That is one of the strengths of our team is that we have a catcher who can handle all of our pitchers. He’s the captain of the team and he’s just a solid player.”
Other key returners are senior third baseman/pitcher Ryan Okiishi, another four-year player, and senior shortstop Adolfo Bermeo. Junior Parker Williams will pitch and play first base, Sal Palacios will play at first and in the outfield and senior Ruben Lopez will also be in the outfield.
“We are just hoping to keep improving as a team, and hopefully we’ll be able to make the playoffs,” Marquardt said.