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VIBL was learning experience for teams

Posted: August 2, 2013 3:21 p.m.
Updated: August 2, 2013 3:21 p.m.

The Valley Invitational Baseball League season came to an end on Tuesday night, with Hart High taking the crown over Foothill League rival Saugus 8-4 at Birmingham High School.

And while the championship is a nice accolade for a Hart team that missed the CIF-Southern Section playoffs for the first time since 1986, the true prize was the experience a summer on the diamond brings.

“We have a lot of guys that are going in and out of town (during the VIBL season). It creates a scenario for us where we play a lot of guys and we play a lot of different lineups, pitch a lot of different guys,” said Hart head coach Jim Ozella. “There’s a lot of different lineups we put together. What happens is it creates a situation where our guys get comfortable with each other. All the guys we have on the team get comfortable in different lineups and different scenarios.”

And with that comes an opportunity for newcomers to get on a varsity coach’s radar.

During the summer, Wes Fitzpatrick, an athletic outfielder who missed last season due to a knee injury suffered during football season, made his mark on the diamond.

“He changes a lot of things for us,” Ozella said. “He really makes us a very athletic team.”

On the mound, young pitchers Paul Richan and Sean Ward made their mark, too.

“I don’t know if they’ll be with us (on varsity), but they certainly got on our map and have shown that they can maybe compete at the varsity level,” Ozella said.

For Saugus, the VIBL season wasn’t necessarily about going far in the postseason, but rather, getting as much quality experience for a young team as possible after missing out on the CIF-SS playoffs in the spring.

“Yes, there was an extra motivation to want to play better baseball (after the spring),” said Saugus head coach John Maggiora. “I don’t think it was so much about going deep in the playoffs, but playing good baseball.”

Unlike Hart, Maggiora said the Centurions didn’t have many players leave during the summer. As a result, a young group, which lost just six seniors last season and will feature a seven-man pitching staff of all juniors in 2014, had a chance to play together throughout the VIBL season.

“It’s huge, especially when you play in the tough league that we do. You’re going to have a lot of challenging moments and a lot of close ball games,” Maggiora said. “When you have a team that is very much together, shooting for the same things, good things can happen for them.”

Overall, it was a strong summer for the Foothill League schools — with Hart, Saugus and Canyon participating in the regular VIBL season and West Ranch and Valencia participating in a six-team round robin pool outside of the typical VIBL format.

Saugus was the strongest local team during the regular season, finishing the summer 16-5 and finishing the regular season in second place.

Hart was just behind the Centurions in the regular season, before topping them in the final game to finish 19-5. Canyon was sixth in the regular season standings and finished the summer at 11-7.

All three teams reached at least the quarterfinals, where Canyon fell 10-3 to Valley North.

The Cowboys, like Hart, saw players come in and out of the roster during the summer months.

“It’s a chance for new guys who will be making the team to get some more playing time.” Canyon head coach Adam Schulhofer said earlier in the season of the Cowboys’ summer philosophy.

Unlike Ozella and Maggiora, Schulhofer chose not to coach the team during the summer, instead handing that duty over to junior varsity coach A.J. Meneou.

The summer situations for Ozella and Maggiora may be slightly different, but both coaches agree that the VIBL season, with the competitiveness of the Foothill League schools, forecasts another tough league season come spring.

“It’s going to be crazy, just like last year. We looked at 45 league games last spring and almost half of them were one-run games,” Maggiora said. “I just see it happening again with so many good teams. Valencia is going to be loaded again. West Ranch is two-time in a row league champions, can’t discount them. Hart is going to be pretty loaded and Canyon is also defending league champs. And don’t discount Golden Valley. They have a good coach with a good track record. It’s going to be a wild Foothill League.”


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