Vaqueros off and running

GLENDALE — When the California Collegiate League announced its intention in September to expand into Glendale this coming summer, the news figured to raise the profile of amateur baseball in the Jewel City.

It's certainly had that effect on the Glendale Community College baseball program, according to Coach Chris Cicuto, who largely credits the arrival of the Glendale Angelenos with adding a respected Major League Baseball veteran to his coaching staff and an infusion of experienced players to his roster.

"I think the California Collegiate League brought a lot of attention to us," Cicuto said of the expansion, which will see the Glendale Angelenos play their inaugural season at the Vaqueros' home, Stengel Field, this summer. "It really helped out with the recruiting aspect.

"This year we have the most depth I've ever seen in all aspects."

The Vaqueros' experienced pitching staff is spearheaded by returning starting pitchers Joe Stephen, Michael Noteware and reliever Josh Natham, as well as sophomore transfer Nick Woodward, who has been penciled in to start the team's season opener at L.A. Harbor at 2 p.m. today.

West L.A. transfer Ryan Sherriff adds a lefty arm and Jake Hamblen is another candidate to fill out the rotation.

"Those guys will see a lot of the innings this year," said Cicuto, whose remaining nine pitchers include Hoover and USC graduate John La and Citrus transfer Thomas Corn. "We definitely have some depth here."

Offensively, the Vaqueros, who went 15-21 and 7-14 in the Western State Conference last season, appear to have a talented group of hitters, who will take their instruction from former big leaguer Brady Anderson, who is also the Angelenos hitting coach.

"Brady Anderson being our hitting coach and being involved with the California Collegiate League, that brought a lot of attention, too," Cicuto said.

Hoover graduate Sako Chapjian is the returning starter at third base, but Cicuto said he also wants to find at bats for third baseman Nick Bozeman, whether at the hot corner or elsewhere.

Injuries took a toll on the Vaqueros last season, but some of those key players have bounced back, including middle infielder Matt McAllister. USC transfer Sean Spear will also play up the middle.

"Those two guys are pretty solid," said Cicuto, who has a capable backup middle infielder in Eric Matranga.

There's depth at first base, as well, with sophomores Michael Sherwin, who was also injured last year, David Park and Ellis Whitman in the mix.

Sophomore catcher Erik Suarez is back, adding veteran leadership to the team's deep staff, and third-year player Ryan Daniels backs him up.

Additional experienced transfers will fill the outfield, including John Schwer, Scott Hong, who played for the 2009 Orange Coast College state-champion squad, and Crescenta Valley graduate Chris Stroh, a graduate of Long Beach State, and Ian Wilson.

Players such as La and Stroh have already earned degrees at their respective four-year colleges, but wanted to use up their remaining eligibility at Glendale college.

Hong and Spear have speed and pop at the top of the lineup, Cicuto said, while the big bats of Chapjian, Bozeman and Park are expected to slug from the middle of the order and drive in runs.

"We're sophomore-dominant, which is always nice to have," Cicuto said. " The one key thing is bringing in so many new faces, my concern is how they're going to mesh. They seem to have pretty good chemistry so far.

"They feel pretty confident and they feel they can be pretty solid this year."

The Vaqueros open conference play at 12 p.m. Feb. 26 at Stengel Field against West L.A.

"This year we want to take it pitch by pitch, inning by inning and game by game and we'll go from there," Cicuto said. "I'm not looking [ahead] to the second game, third game or playoffs, I'm just looking for Game One against Harbor."

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