Injuries plagued the La Cañada High baseball team last year. The Spartans' No. 1 and 2 pitchers, Brendon Shoemake and Cole Kendall, spent a large part of the season off the field recovering.
La Cañada finished fourth in Rio Hondo League with a 13-12 record (6-5 in league) last season. The team's season ended with a 10-0 loss to St. Paul in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division IV playoffs.
The Spartans entered the season with plenty of fresh faces. Seven freshman and sophomores make up this year's squad, and Johnny Selsor, a freshman third baseman, and Clayton Herrmann, a sophomore shortstop, are anchoring the left side of La Cañada's infield.
Coach Dennis Ballard thinks this year's group has a chance to be at the top of Rio Hondo League when all is said and done. Ballard knows that in order to do that, the Spartans need to go through Temple City and Monrovia — two Rio Hondo powerhouses.
"Temple City and Monrovia are always the teams we have to beat," he said. "They are perennially in first and second in league. They're the ones we really get up for."
Last season's nightmare seems to still haunt the Spartans early in the season, as last year's immediate-impact freshman, Anthony Mizrahi, has been kept from starting behind the plate due to a shoulder injury. So far, he's been held to a designated-hitter assignment.
"He's capable of hitting it out in any given at-bat," said Ballard of Mizrahi, whose three home runs led the team last year.
In addition, his seven doubles were tied for a team high, while he had a .266 batting average (17 for 64) and a .516 slugging percentage.
Senior Scott Stetson, La Cañada's only returning All-Area player, finished his junior year with a .435 batting average (30 for 69) along with 27 runs scored, 19 RBI and 17 stolen bases. He'll be called upon to do more of the same this year while boosting his RBI numbers, Ballard said.
Shoemake can get it done with the bat when he's not on the mound. He hit .348 (23 for 66) last season, driving in 16 runs.
The Spartans will look to play small ball this season to set their big bats up with RBI opportunities.
"We move the runners across and bunt a lot; we've got some boys who run the bases well. We will probably be mostly a small-ball team with a couple of guys who can hit some balls out," Ballard said.
Hopes are that La Cañada's arms will be able to hold the opposition within striking distance of this year.
"We have three returning pitchers (seniors Shoemake and Sam Baldwin and junior Mitch Russell) and if they hold up, I think we can challenge anybody," Ballard said. "I think we have a shot, in a very hard and difficult Rio Hondo League, if we get lucky a couple of times."