GLENDALE — For the last two seasons, Crescenta Valley High's baseball team has had a wealth of underclassmen seemingly brimming with potential.
While that talent has certainly been glimpsed, Falcons Coach Phil Torres and his staff are still looking for a season in which consistency meets flair. Whether or not that time is here remains to be seen, but after a second-place Pacific League finish last year behind two-time reigning champion Arcadia, the Falcons have the league's most vaunted group of returners.
"It's an 11th-grade team that's experienced, they've been through the battles," Torres said. "You always want to go out and win league, that's why you play."
But the X-factor will be the mental game for the Falcons, who are likely to be led by juniors Elliott Surrey, Troy Mulcahey, Troy Prasertsit and Kyle Murray.
"We've got plenty of arms, kids [who] are experienced. It's how mature [they] are, how are [they] gonna react when something goes bad," Torres said. "I don't think it has to do with anything baseball-wise. It has to do with growing up. That stuff has to come from the inside."
The traditionally vaunted Falcons staff will feature reigning All-Area picks Surrey and Mulcahey, who will also anchor the middle of the lineup, along with Murray. Murray is a junior who worked his way through the program away from any limelight, but, according to Torres, has earned himself a spot as the team's clean-up hitter and frontline starting pitcher.
"Guys are just gonna have to step up and play defense, because we're pretty good on the bump," Torres said.
Kyle Pomeroy, a senior, could also lend a helping arm as he looks to have recovered from a damaging arm injury that's kept him off the mound the last two seasons. Sophomore Cole Currie will also return to start, but will move from second base to shortstop to fill the vacancy left by Nate Rousey. Rousey, a standout pitcher, as well, moved to Fresno after his father, former Cal State Northridge baseball Coach Steve Rousey, received a job as an assistant coach at Fresno State.
Coach Buzz Cook of Flintridge Prep, the only other local team to make it to the playoffs last year, falling in the wild-card round, same as Crescenta Valley, is dealing with the loss of seven seniors from a 16-player roster.
Elsewhere locally, Glendale, Hoover and St. Francis were all on the outside of the postseason looking in.
For Cook's Rebels, the return of All-Area standout Royce Park and a crop of solid freshman have Prep believing it can improve on its third-place Prep League finish from a season ago.
"In all honesty, it's [Pasadena] Poly and everyone else," said Cook, whose team is captained by senior shortstop/pitcher Kyle McDonald. "But I'd be thoroughly disappointed if we don't finish in second place, cause I think we should."
In addition to junior infielder Alex Sierra and sophomore utility player Karlsen Termini, Cook expects key contributors to be a group of freshmen led by Brenden McKiernan. Cook expects to start as many as four freshmen.
"[It's] probably the most athletic group of freshmen I've ever had," said Cook, who has nine players on his roster that can pitch. "How effective they'll be as freshman, we'll see."
For a St. Francis squad that competes in the toughest league among area squads, the Mission League road is always an arduous one, but might be all that much more difficult for a largely unproven Golden Knights squad.
"We're gonna be a young team this year," said Golden Knights Coach Brian Esquival, whose team went 13-14 last season and took sixth in league, missing out on the playoffs. "It's gonna be interesting."
Returning All-Area catcher David Hubinger will play a vital role in igniting the offense, while fellow seniors Chris Longo and Joey Mulham will be St. Francis' top two pitchers on the mound.
"We're gonna have to throw strikes and play defense behind them," said Esquival, whose team will face the likes of Division II top-ranked Alemany and fourth-ranked Chaminade in its league schedule. "We're gonna have to do all the little things on offense."
Esquival, who will also look to third baseman/pitcher Tei Vanderford for big contributions, has also been dealt the harsh card of having reigning All-Area infielder David Olmeda-Barrera sidelined for the start of the season with a broken wrist.
Healthy or not, Esquival believes his Knights will have to be at their best every game to compete.
"We're gonna have to play near-perfect baseball."
Hoover second-year Coach Joe Cotti maintains that his goal for the season is, "coming together to play as one team," but when asked about league prospects also indicated that every year is the same in terms of vying for a league crown.
After a sixth-place finish in league a season ago, a good amount of ground will have to be made up, with seniors Camron Doran, Anthony Cuccinello and Eugene Shin looked upon to lead the way.
"It's a scrappy bunch," Cotti said. "We're definitely gonna have to play small ball, we're definitely gonna have to play team ball."
Glendale might be hard-pressed for a playoff push, but second-year Coach Jesus Osuna is quite happy with the direction his team is heading, as he has a squad stockpiled with juniors that has shown signs of improvement from last season to this preseason.
"I think last year we took a really good step in the right direction in terms of cutting down on errors, the mental errors and changing the attitude," Osuna said. "I think the kids this year fit into that.
"I think we have a really good shot at being competitive."
While Osuna is "junior-heavy," the team will be led by senior clean-up hitter Zach Fields.
After that, junior pitcher Daniel Aragon, "a crafty lefty," is likely to be the team's top pitcher, while Osuna said No. 3-hitter Guillermo Morales is a "raw talent."