Glendale Community College baseball has right 'pieces' for another Western State Conference title

With consecutive Western State Conference South championships and unprecedented postseason success in its back pocket, Glendale Community College’s baseball team finds itself in the hopeful position of success breeding more success.

“We’re excited. We think we’ve got a talented group of baseball players,” said GCC Coach Chris Cicuto, whose team leads off its season Friday against Rio Hondo. “The success of the program has helped with recruiting.

“The reputation of the program has definitely grown.”

Cicuto’s Vaqueros have combined to go 53-25 over the last two seasons, winning the aforementioned back-to-back WSC crowns and advancing to the postseason in the process, going all the way to state in 2011.

This time around, despite losing myriad all-conference selections, including All-American reliever KJ Edson and All-Southern California starting pitcher Cory Popham, GCC boasts a ballyhooed core of returners and a promising crop of newcomers.

“It’s gonna be a lot of work on the coaches to make sure the talent contributes in the right way,” Cicuto said.

Cicuto boasts a current roster of more than 40 players and he said just under half the team can pitch.

Leading the way at the dish is the 1-2 punch, or more accurately the 4-5 punch, of sophomores Edgar Montes and Austin Walker.

Montes, an all-conference selection a season ago who led the team with 13 doubles, five home runs and 31 runs batted in, is likely to hit fourth and play right field. Walker, whose season ended with a meniscus injury, will likely hit fifth and play the designated hitter spot. Walker hit .378 last season.

“Those two guys should be two of the top guys in the conference if they stay healthy,” said Cicuto, who’s won the last two coach of the year accolades for the conference. “Both of those guys have done some exciting things in practice.”

Julian Jarrard, who hit 20 RBI and 11 doubles last season in addition to winning a conference gold glove, will hit in the third spot and play third base.

“He’s got a very high ceiling,” Cicuto said of Jarrard. “He’s a very talented young man.”

Cicuto has added reason to be excited about his defense.

Sergio Plasencia returns to start at second base after taking home a national gold glove honor, while fellow sophomore Pepe Marquez will handle shortstop duties and sophomore Anthony Esparza is slated to be the starting catcher, though Cicuto said he has depth at the backstop, which is always a boon for the arduous position.

In addition to Montes, Cicuto will have freshmen Mike McCallister and Jay Sheely in left and center field, respectively.

“Nothing’s gonna fall in between those guys,” Cicuto said. “These guys fly.”

Sheely, who’s likely to lead off in the order, should also be a big base-stealing threat, which has become a trademark for the Vaqueros in recent seasons, as they’ve been aggressive and well-rounded offensively.

““It’s definitely something we take pride in,” Cicuto said. “Our goal is to put pressure on guys.”

On the bump, though Cicuto lost plenty, he’s plenty pleased with his new recruits.

Angel Rodriguez, a 6-foot-2 freshman out of Chatsworth, is set to be the opening day starter against Rio Hondo — which is the first of four road games before GCC’s home opener Feb. 8 against Ventura.

But one of Cicuto’s biggest gets is likely 6-2 right-hander Keaton Leach out of South Pasadena. Leach had a scholarship to Fresno State, but elected to stay local with the Vaqs. He’ll be the No. 2 starter out of the gate, but Loyola product Spencer Jack, a 6-5 sophomore righty who transferred from Jacksonville University, could earn the rotation’s top spot. A prolonged illness in the offseason set him back a bit, so he’ll begin the year out of the bullpen.

Hoover product Tyler Delzell, a sophomore, will return and take up the closer role.

Another local, All-Area pick Tei Vanderford out of St. Francis, could be a jack of all trades coming off a deep bench. Vanderford will likely be a reliever and a top pinch-hitter who can also play first base or the outfield.

“We’re lucky enough to have a bunch of dudes who can come in and perform,” said Cicuto, who also pointed out freshman pitcher/outfielder Carl Daniels as a player to watch.

In addition to Vanderford, there’s plenty of other area high school talent on the roster. Nate Rousey was an All-Area pick at Crescenta Valley before transferring north to finish out his high school ball at Buchanan in Fresno. Pitcher Mike Polchow (Crescenta Valley), pitcher/infielder Hector Gonzalez (Burroughs), pitcher Jason Kim (Crescenta Valley), pitcher Sam Frakes (Maranatha), utility Dylan Trimarchi (South Pasadena), a first-team All-Area pick in 2012, and pitcher Joey Malham (St. Francis) are also on the roster.

The Vaqueros will open up conference play with a home-and-home series against L.A. Valley College on Feb. 16 at Stengel Field. GCC won the conference by three games last season, but Cicuto said the one-game-at-a-time approach is the top priority.

“We try to stay away from that conference title [talk],” Cicuto said. “Sure it’s in the back of our heads, but you can’t get to that conference title until you get win No. 1.”

Nonetheless, conference and postseason success have become a trend for the Vaqueros that Cicuto admits he’s hoping will continue. And more importantly, that the Vaqueros have the means to continue.

“It would be unbelievable to win a third straight conference title,” Cicuto said. “I think with our talent and if we stay healthy and our guys gel ... then we can definitely have a great shot to three-peat.

“I think the pieces are all there, but it’s all about executing and playing team baseball.”

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