Now-or-never year for Falcons

With a trio of ballyhooed arms and a core of four-year varsity starters, the time is now for Crescenta Valley High's baseball team. It has to be.

With hurlers Troy Mulcahey and Elliott Surrey and outfielder Troy Prasertsit in their fourth seasons of varsity baseball as Falcons, coupled with the emergence of hard-throwing Kyle Murray, Crescenta Valley is seemingly loaded with senior talent that has arrived upon a do-or-die season.

There is a bevy of local talent heading into its senior seasons, with the Falcons four joined by the likes of David Olmedo-Barrera and Tei Vanderford at St. Francis, as well as Flintridge Prep's Royce Park.

But the Falcons, Golden Knights, Rebels and Hoover Tornadoes all made the postseason a year ago, only to all go one and done. Throw Glendale in the mix and the local diamond five are all looking to improve with the high school baseball season now in full swing.

With Mulcahey, the reigning All-Area Baseball Player of the Year who's drawing major attention from big league scouts, the UC Irvine-bound Surrey and the Cal State Fullerton-bound Murray leading the way, the Falcons won 23 games a season ago, but still came in second in the Pacific League to Arcadia and lost to Sherman Oaks Notre Dame in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division II playoffs.

"Our strong suit's on the mound," Falcons Coach Phil Torres said. "Those three seniors haven't won the big game — they just haven't. You can be a showcase guy or going to this college or lighting up the radar, but you have to win the big game. That's what we're looking for. And we feel good about them being able to do that."

Hence, though many of the Falcons' best players have been praised with accolades, scholarships and plenty of hype, they've yet to pry away the Pacific League title from Arcadia's grasp. And that's the biggest task at hand.

"I remind them every week that they really haven't won anything," said Torres, whose team opens its season today against South Hills at UC Riverside. "So there's not a whole lot of back patting in the weight room or at practice."

Indeed, Torres and his staff are ready for Crescenta Valley to finally put it all together. That will involve the contributions from junior Cole Currie, a shortstop and pitcher, third baseman Ted Boeke, a sophomore, and senior backstop Cam Silva.

"We'll be pretty deep one through six," said Torres of the batting order, which is likely to see Currie lead off in front of Surrey with Mulcahey hitting third and Prasertsit at clean-up.

Olmedo-Barrera, who's headed for Cal State Fullerton, is likely to hit leadoff or No. 2 for a St. Francis squad that tied for third in the always ultra-competitive Mission League before falling in the Division II wild-card round.

Along with Olmedo-Barrera, fellow seniors Vanderford and Jeff Garavaglia will be a core trio for the Golden Knights.

"We're gonna rely on them pretty heavily," said St. Francis Coach Brian Esquival, whose team opened its season Friday with a loss to Simi Valley.

But just as great a deal of St. Francis' success is likely to fall upon the arms of senior Will Larkin and junior Danny Monarrez, who will need to carry the load of an unproven pitching staff.

"We're gonna be OK defensively and we're gonna be strong offensively, but we're gonna have to pitch really well," Esquival said. "We just don't have that shutdown guy this year. They're gonna have to locate, they're gonna have to mix speeds."

As always, the Mission League is projected to be arduous, led by Harvard-Westlake, the top-ranked team in Division II that is also ranked sixth in the nation by ESPN High School, while Alemany is ranked third in the division.

"They're gonna be pretty darn tough to beat," Esquival said of Harvard-Westlake. "I'm sure everyone's beatable. That said, I think they're the odds-on favorite."

Flintridge Prep also has a formidable foe to deal with in the Prep League, which has been won 16 straight seasons by Pasadena Poly, which won last year's Division VI title. But after a second-place season with eight starters returning, Rebels Coach Buzz Cook thinks this year is as good as any to give the Panthers a run.

"I like our chances simply because, basically, we're a year older and that experience is something you can't teach," Cook said. "I feel like we've got a strong team. If we show up, we're focused and we play well, I feel like we've got as good a shot as anybody to win league, including Poly."

One speed bump in that plan revolves around Park, a two-time reigning All-CIF and All-Area pitcher and third baseman. Park has experienced some elbow problems and his health, along with that of the rest of the squad, is paramount, in Cook's eyes, to his team's success.

"I'm just keeping my fingers crossed [about Park]," said Cook, who's also looking for big contributions from senior first baseman/pitcher Karlsen Termini, the team's No. 4 hitter, sophomore Cole Rademacher and Brenden McKiernan, who's taking over the leadoff spot. "As I typically say, if I can keep everybody healthy, I'm happy.

"I feel like we should have a really strong team. Obviously that's contingent on keeping everybody healthy."

Despite making the playoffs for the first time since 2008, Coach Joe Cotti's Hoover squad looks to have an uphill battle with a relatively young and inexperienced squad.

Having lost its top two players in Cameron Doran and Anthony Cuccinelo, the Tornadoes return seniors Kevin Mendoza and Michael Zalin, while looking for junior Orlando Marin to fill the vacancy for the top starting pitcher spot.

"Hopefully he will be, we'll see," said Cotti, whose team opened its season Friday with a defeat at home against North Hollywood.

The Tornadoes' roster holds five freshmen and seven seniors after a season in which it went 7-7 for fourth place in the Pacific League, aided by two forfeit victories from Burroughs.

"We're gonna be young, we've got a lot of youngsters," Cotti said. "[The goals is] what we want every year: Having a team come together and learning to play as one."

While Glendale was swept by archrival Hoover and finished in a tie for sixth place, Nitros Coach Jesus Osuna is brimming with optimism that this will be the season — starting with its nonleague opener against La Cañada on March 6 — that the program finally climbs back into the playoff picture.

"We're looking really good," Osuna said. "We finally have all the pieces in place. We have the pitching, we have the defense and we have the hitting.

"Our main focus is the playoffs, that's the big thing. It's my third year and we've gone through all the stages of rebuilding, just wanting to improve, wanting to compete. We're way past that now."

Osuna contends that he's had, perhaps, more talent before, but this year's crop of Nitros is finally starting to put it all together.

Success will rely heavily upon the 1-2 starting combo of senior pitchers Daniel Aragon and Jason Marquez. But he's also excited about the return of No. 3 hitter Dillon Howard and the emergence of sophomore clean-up hitter and relief pitcher Brandon Keen, a sophomore.

"He's gonna perform very well," Osuna said.

Of course, he's looking from that for the entire team, as it looks to join the postseason ranks.

"When I got here it was a complete rebuilding," Osuna said. "Now it just looks really good. I'm ready, I can't wait."

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