Playoffs were a non-existant entity for the La Cañada trio of high school baseball teams a spring ago.
With plenty of change on the rosters and two new coaches aboard, postseason berths could very well be a welcomed change, as well.
Replacing longtime skipper Dennis Ballard, Alex Valadez, who was an assistant for the past two seasons, takes the reins as the head coach for La Cañada, as the program went just 2-10 in the Rio Hondo League a season ago.
“I think we're meshing well,” said the 31-year-old Valadez. “We're heavily senior-stacked this year. I've seen these kids come through. They're buying in. I think we have a little bit of everything. I'm excited.”
Senior Anthony Mizrahi looks to do a bit of everything for the Spartans, as he'll play third base and be a crucial cog in the lineup while also the team's No. 1 starter.
In addition to Mizrahi, junior left-hander Justin Lewis and senior Alex Bang will head up what Valadez sees as a deep and talented starting staff.
“I think we have a good staff,” said Valadez, whose team had started the season 1-1 headed into Wednesday. “We're probably five or six kids deep.”
Catcher Scott Moulin, shortstop Clayton Herrmann and senior first baseman Scott Moulin will also be key starters as the Spartans look to climb up the Rio Hondo League ladder.
“The reality is every [team] has an opportunity,” Valadez said. “It's the team that makes the fewest mistakes [that will prevai]. I like our chances.”
St. Francis is under the guise of Aaron Milam, a longtime assistant for the Golden Knights who took over midway last season when Esquival moved on.
Just like any other season, St. Francis figures to face a loaded Mission League gauntlet, with Milam expecting Loyola, Harvard-Westlake and Alemany to be the favorites.
Milam, whose team has started 0-2, figures to have depth on the mound, but will have to rely on some small ball to scratch together runs.
“We can pitch, we pitch pretty well. We're pretty deep, we'll compete on the bump,” said Milam, who will rely on the arms of senior Richie Alfonso, senior Daniel Monarrez and senior AJ Byer. “As far as scoring runs, that's another story.”
Alfonso, who will also play first base, is likely to hit third and have a big say in what happens offensively. Milam also likes the
prospects of sophomore Andres Kim, an infielder who will lead off in the order.
Junior infielder Keven Baker will hit second in the order for a Golden Knights squad that tied for sixth in the seven-team Mission League a year ago.
“We've been playing a lot of small ball,” said Milam, who lost standout hitter David Olmedo-Barrera and Tei Vanderford, among others, to graduation. “The make-up of the team is very different.”
Karlsen Termini, a senior pitcher and first baseman, returns to lead Flintridge Prep, but much else is different, most notably the loss of longtime coach Buzz Cook, who is replaced by 24-year-old Guillermo Gonzalez.
“It's been really hard,” said Gonzalez of the transition. “We're really young this year. They've bought into the program though.”
Termini is likely to be a major catalyst for the Rebels' success, as the four-year starter is one of just three seniors on the 21-player roster.
“He's putting the whole team on his back,” said Gonzalez, whose team has opened the season with a 3-2 record. “If he's in the game, we're all in the game.”
Gonzalez also expects important contributions from junior leadoff hitter Brenden McKiernan, who will start on the mound and play shortstop, while
freshman infielder Cole
Pilar is set to hit in the third spot.
The Rebels tied for last place in the five-team Prep League a season ago and, new coach or not, have prospects of moving up.
“Our biggest goal is to try to make playoffs,” Gonzalez said.