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Will it be the bats?

Foothill League is loaded with explosive offenses

Posted: March 20, 2009 1:52 a.m.
Updated: March 20, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Hart's Devin Rodriguez tags a base last season. Rodriguez is one of the few returnees who will help the Indians defend their Foothill League crown.

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Since four teams have a legitimate shot at the Foothill League baseball title, little is certain as league play begins other than it figures to be a slugfest on the field and in the standings.

Some of the best hitters in the area, such as West Ranch’s Jake Bernards, Hart’s Devin Rodriguez and Valencia’s Christian Lopes, all start their quest to finish atop the Foothill League today.

When it’s all said and done, there are bound to be plenty of offensive outbursts, but it may be the team that finds the most pitching that winds up the winner.

Saugus, which finished third last year, returns an experienced senior class that would like to mirror the school’s girls soccer team, which finished third in the Foothill League before making a run to a CIF Championship.

“I’d be lying if I said our goal is anything but winning a league championship,” said Saugus head John Maggiora. “Still, when you see a team do what our girls soccer team did you know that if you can just get in then you have a chance, and we plan on finding a way to get that chance.”

Saugus’ playoff hopes took a hit when two-time team MVP and four-year varsity player Zach Vincej broke his left hand over a month ago. The Centurion shortstop hopes to play in the field for the Foothill League opener, but doctors still have not cleared him to pick up a bat.

Fellow seniors Stefan Cordes, Aaron Hooper and Brett Piper had to pick up the offensive slack with Vincej out, while Kyle Hooper and Darren Schweitzer carried the load on the mound.

“These guys have really come together as a group,” Maggiora said. “There are no egos in the group.”

Valencia is coming off a season in which it won its fair share of close games. The Vikings finished in second place and just two games out of first, largely due to the play of shortstop Christian Lopes.

The sophomore, who played for the U-16 U.S. National Team in the offseason, hit .408 with 10 homers in his freshman campaign.

“Christian is one of the best players in the state,” said Valencia head coach Jared Snyder. “Having him at the top of our order is a huge plus for us.”

Another positive for the Viking offense is right fielder Dylan Jones, who plans to attend the University of Oregon to continue his career after his senior season and is coming off a second-team all-CIF campaign.

“Most of the other teams are older than us,” Snyder said. “As long as we can stay away from making youthful mistakes and our pitching comes through then we should be good.”

Sophomores David Hausman and Quincy Quintero will be asked to anchor the Valencia pitching staff.

“Hausman and Quintero are young, but they are more confident than a lot of guys who are older than them that I’ve seen,” Snyder said.

Snyder also likes the tough makeup of his team.

“We have a couple players like (center fielder/relief pitcher) Dominick Solley and (catcher) Alex Bishop that bring a football mentality to the diamond,” Snyder said. “That toughness will be key for us because we know it’s going to be a fight to get into the top three.”

For West Ranch, 2009 could be the year the Wildcats not only break into the playoffs, but also take home the title.
Coming off a 6-9 Foothill League campaign that saw West Ranch finish fourth, the Wildcats return two-time Foothill League first-teamer Jake Bernards at first base, along with shortstop Cal Vogelsang and Casey Watkins at third.

The trio will bat in the top three spots of the Wildcat order.

“We want to get those guys up as much as possible, so we figure why not put them at the top of the order?” said West Ranch coach Casey Burrill. “Like most of the Foothill League teams we have a lot of offense, but we’re looking for pitching depth so I anticipate we might have some 18-16 games, and I might have a few more gray hairs when we are done.”

Burrill will rely on left-hander Trevor Fredrickson and sophomore righty Ryan Keller to keep his coif from prematurely aging. The duo figures to start a large portion of the Wildcats’ games.

“Our pitching has been better than we thought it was going to be,” Burrill said. “We think Keller could be a guy that makes a big impact for us.”

Hart will also rely on its offense this season in a quest to defend its 2008 title.

The Indians have a much different look than the team that went 14-1 in the Foothill League last year.

“We lost a dozen guys from last year’s team so we know 2008 doesn’t mean anything now,” said Hart head coach Jim Ozella. “We have a proud tradition here so we know what we have to do, but we also know in this league it is going to be a battle to make it to make the playoffs.”

The Indians return first baseman Devin Rodriguez, who brings a school-record 28-game hit streak into league play, and third baseman-turned-catcher Trevor Brown will provide the pop in the heart of the order. Both players are also committed to going to Pac-10 schools next year with Rodriguez headed to UC-Berkeley and Brown planning to attend UCLA.

“This will be the second year we bat Devin in the four hole,” Ozella said. “We rely on him to drive in a lot runs for us, and Trevor is a very athletic guy that we used in center field his sophomore year, third base his junior and now we’re going to put him behind the plate because he has a great arm.”

When Brown isn’t catching, he will be using his arm on the mound, where he’ll anchor Hart’s three-man staff. Junior right-hander Josh Wagner and sophomore lefty Garrett Gooding will round out the rotation.

“Obviously, we don’t want the kid to get hurt so going with three pitchers was for the best,” Ozella said. “Josh and Garrett have both pitched well and are making strides.”

Injuries have already hurt the Indians this year. Outfielder Cade Krueter is likely to miss the entire season with a shoulder injury, and C.J. Millar fouled a ball off his foot in the first inning of a Tuesday doubleheader, which left him questionable for Friday’s Foothill League opener.

“We have gotten a lot thrown at us already this season,” Ozella said.

It will be a fight for Canyon head coach Adam Schulhofer in his first year back with the Cowboys.

The Cowboys, coming off a fifth-place finish, hope Schulhofer can guide Canyon to more than the three wins in league play it tallied in 2008.

Seniors Robert Wright and Donnie Young are slated to lead the Cowboy staff, which Schulhofer looks at as a major factor in deciding whether the Cowboys can improve on last year’s 3-12 league mark.

“We need to find ways to pitch out of jams,” Schulhofer said. “There is a lot that we just haven’t quite been able to put together. We’re still trying to find a way to get the big hits and make routine plays.”

When Wright isn’t on the mound he will anchor the offense and catch, while third baseman Kyle Pressman figures to be a key cog in the Cowboy lineup.

“We only have three guys with real varsity experience,” Schilhofer said, “This is going to be a new experience for a lot of these guys. We just have to find ways to capitalize on the opportunities we have.”

Golden Valley will look to new head coach Scott Drootin to take the opportunity to turn around a program that did not tally a Foothill League victory last year.

Drootin has entered similar situations at Calabasas, Chaminade and Newbury Park, where he won a total of seven titles during a decade and a half of coaching.

“I like being in a rebuilding situation,” Drootin said. “It’s rewarding to be able to watch a program grow and to win somewhere where the fans aren’t used to winning.”

The Grizzlies only return four seniors, left-handed pitcher Nick Rhoades, outfielder Chris Smith, utility player Phillip Anderson and first baseman Brandon Kaufman.

“Nick has really improved over the winter and Brandon is the guy we are going to rely on in the middle of the order,” Drootin said. “Our seniors are a big part of helping our younger guys learns how to play the game the right way.”

The league openers feature Valencia visiting Saugus, Hart traveling to West Ranch and Golden Valley hosting Canyon. All three games start at 3:15 p.m. today.


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