BURBANK — Hector Perez has built a winning baseball program at Bellarmine-Jefferson High over the last 11 years.
Along with turning out a crop of players who have won league player-of-the-year honors and players who have gone on to compete on the college level, Perez has a postseason track record that no other area baseball coach can match.
Under Perez, the Guards have qualified for the CIF Southern Section players for eight straight years.
"I've just been fortunate to have been able to coach some pretty good players over the years," said Perez, a Burroughs High graduate.
Bell-Jeff, along with Burbank, Burroughs and Providence, has its share of talented players this season. Here is a look at how the teams are shaping up.
Perez has surrounded himself with some new assistants this season, including Bell-Jeff graduate Matt Magallon and former St. Francis and Glendale Community College standout Andrew Sember.
One of the most positive storylines with the Guards (11-7 last season) this season is the return of senior Philip Diaz, who severely injured his ankle last season only two games into his junior campaign.
"I think they had to put a cadaver bone or something in his leg," Perez said of the player who will pitch, as well as play catcher and shortstop. "Just for him to be able to come back is inspirational for the whole team. He's worked extremely hard to come back."
As a sophomore in 2009, Diaz, a former All-CIF Southern Section pick, hit .311 (19 for 61) with 25 runs scored and 13 runs batted in.
Also returning for the Guards are sophomores Johnny Karalis (outfielder/pitcher) — .353 with 18 hits and 15 runs scored last season — Mitch Kellog (catcher/pitcher), Adolfo Bermeo (second base) and Ryan Okiishi (first base), along with juniors Sam Kachikian (third base) and Matt Landini (shortstop/pitcher).
Other players Perez hopes will contribute are sophomore Damean Sanz (outfield) and freshman Demitri Moreno (outfield).
Last season, Bell-Jeff placed third in the Santa Fe League. Perez is hoping his squad will have enough talent to make another postseason run.
"Definitely Salesian is going to be good," Perez said. "But St. Anthony could have a good team and Verbum Dei may be the sleeper of our league."
Many in the Pacific League predicted the Indians (12-16) would finish sixth last season. But Burroughs surprised many by finishing third.
"We are hoping to maybe do the same this season," Coach J.R. Schwer said. "If our pitching can hold up, I think we'll be able to do fine."
Leading the way are senior third baseman/pitcher Ryne Kahikina and junior catcher Christian Garia. Last season, Kahikina batted .436 with 31 hits, a .661 slugging percentage and a .557 on-base average and Garia hit .388, had three home runs and a .501 on-base average.
Also returning is senior shortstop Casey Kenney, senior first baseman Hector Gonzalez and junior pitcher Shawn Bradshaw. Other pitchers will be sophomores Daniel Barraza and Chris Davies, junior Dylan Goldsack and senior Andrew Ortega, who can play a variety of positions.
Sophomores Luis Pereyra and Brian Pozos will play second base and junior Chris Peale will be a designated hitter and also play first base.
In the outfield will be juniors Ryan Gordon, Eli Peppmuller, Zander Anding and Nate Bogard — who can also pitch.
"You can always expect CV to be tough in league, along with Arcadia," Schwer said. "League should be tough."
The Bulldogs (15-10) are coming off a season in which they placed fourth in the Pacific League and qualified for the postseason.
Like Perez, Coach Bob Hart has a new group of assistant coaches who he says will provide a wealth of experience.
On the field, the Bulldogs lost a lot of talent from last season.
"I think we lost something like 12 to 14 players from last season," Hart said. "We are going to be young and we are going to be experienced, but I think we're going to have our share of talent. We have some very good young players."
Leading the group of returners is sophomore Dylan Mersola, who will play shortstop. Last season, Mersola batted .263 and had 29 hits, 23 runs scored and had 11 RBI.
The team's ace on the mound should be junior left-hander Daniel Starkand. However, Ryan Favor, Ricky Perez, Andrew Hernandez, Paul Gatton and John White could all see time on the hill.
The team's catchers will be juniors Paul Frias and Zach Spahr, and competing for time at second base will be White, a sophomore, and another sophomore, Chris Okimoto.
"At catcher, I think we have two of the best players we've had at Burbank since I've been here," Hart said. "They are both good players."
At third base will be junior Broderick Jenkins, a transfer who was not allowed to play on the varsity level last season. Hart said it will be a battle in the outfield, with Tyler Do, Andrew Saldana, Gatton, Hernandez and Colson Cripps fighting for playing time.
James Johnson, Marc Hoffman and Steve Rodriguez could also give the Bulldogs some depth.
In the Pacific League battle, Hart said expects his team to compete with the top squads.
"Burroughs has some talent, and [Crescenta Valley] and Arcadia always have good teams," Hart said. "But I fully expect us to be competitive in league."
The Pioneers (5-16) struggled last season, finishing fourth in the Liberty League and failing to qualify for the postseason.
Providence has a new coach in Steve Knez, a Bell-Jeff graduate.
"We are going to have a very small team," Knez said. "It has been a struggle at first, and we are just trying to get things organized this season. This season is a rebuilding year for the program, but we are definitely on track to being contenders next year."
Knez said he has been impressed with the play of junior starting pitcher Anthony Galvan.
"He is loaded with talent and has terrific leadership skills," Knez said.
Other players who the coach has high praise for are sophomore shortstop, Aaron Ziegler, junior catcher Jerry Ascencio and junior first baseman/third baseman AJ Jaspe.
The coach said he is trying out other players at various positions in order to fine the right combination.