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Foothill League baseball preview: The hang-on

Last year the Wildcats lost their hold on the Foothill; who will hold on this season?

Posted: March 18, 2010 10:21 p.m.
Updated: March 19, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Valencia's Trey Williams, an All-Foothill League selection as a freshman in 2009, has made the move from third base to shortstop in 2010.

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West Ranch baseball was officially on the map.

It was the first week of May last year and the Wildcats were living up to their potential.

A preseason Foothill League title favorite for the first time ever, the Wildcats stood 10-1 entering the final two weeks of the regular season.

They were the No. 1 team in CIF-Southern Section Division I.

Then everything fell apart and Santa Clarita Valley’s baseball team of the decade, Valencia, came in and swiped the Foothill title from under them.

Again, West Ranch is poised to make a run to its first ever Foothill baseball title.

The Wildcats are highly ranked — No. 3 in the preseason CIF-Southern Section Division I poll.

And the potential is there for another team to come in and take a title from under them.

That’s because the Foothill league has six teams with very different makeups, each with their own strengths.

Valencia has the bats.

Hart has the speed.

Saugus has a mix.

And Golden Valley and Canyon have motivation coming from different places.

So why is West Ranch considered the top team coming into Friday’s openers?

“I think what people notice is depth in pitching,” said West Ranch head coach Casey Burrill. “I think that is our strength right now, barring injuries.”

West Ranch has three solid arms in veteran Allen Sarkissian, 6-foot-4-inch University of San Diego-bound Ryan Keller and a sophomore left-hander with a lot of potential in J.C. Cloney.

What West Ranch doesn’t have is the power bats that led the Wildcats to a program-best 21-7 overall record and an 11-4 second-place finish in the Foothill.

Jake Bernards, Casey Watkins, Mitchell Thompson and Cal Vogelsang graduated and took with them 32 home runs and 143 RBIs – 82 and 57 percent, respectively, of the team’s totals from last year.

So the question is: Will they hit?

Not the same way, but veterans Nico Rusconi and Sarkissian and sophomore Josh Heinz, who already has 14 RBIs, should make the lineup formidable.

There’s no question for Valencia — the Vikings will hit.

A historically big-hitting team, the Vikings expect again to produce a lot of runs.

This, in spite of the loss of Foothill League and All-Santa Clarita Valley player of the year Christian Lopes.

The Vikings shortstop transferred to Edison of Huntington Beach in January, helping to make that team the state’s preseason No. 1 in CalHiSports.com’s preseason poll.

Valencia, though, has moved on and head coach Jared Snyder insists that the Vikings are still strong offensively, but even better defensively.

“I think we’re going to have to hit to win,” Snyder said. “No doubt we had to hit our way out of a lot of games (last season), but we also got good pitching from sophomores who are now juniors. (The departures are) not irreplaceable offense. We’ve gotten a lot better defensively, which will really help our pitchers out.”

Snyder said the move of third baseman Trey Williams to shortstop will make the Vikings defense much stronger up the middle.
His bat should help carry the Vikings as well.

Williams has a very high ceiling after batting .429 with five home runs as a freshman last season.

Quincy Quintero and Nick Rivas have built off last season’s All-Foothill League second-team selections and newcomer Shane Zeile, the nephew of Hart graduate and former longtime Major Leaguer Todd Zeile, add more strength to the Vikings.

The challenge for the Vikings will be on the mound where newcomer Brennan Bernardino, who traded in basketball for baseball, will be counted on to lead the staff.

Saugus has its own player with a high ceiling in junior infielder Nick Lombardi at Saugus.

Lombardi has 12 hits in 19 at-bats thus far and three home runs and 12 RBIs through five games, following up a sophomore campaign in which he batted .393.

Saugus also has a proven starter in Tommy Kister and a burgeoning pitcher in Cameron Castillo.

The Centurions are the unknown, though.

Outside of Lombardi and senior Michael Soucy, the Cents are unproven on offense.

Yet Saugus head coach John Maggiora believes his team can compete for a league title.

“They’re going to compete for seven innings. Some teams that are down will throw in the towel, but during the summer, we were in every game,” Maggiora said. “It’s not like any teams came in and throttled us.”

Hart is similar in that it has the one name that pops out – shortstop Patrick Valaika – and a bunch of pieces surrounding him.

Where Hart is dissimilar from every other team is on the basepaths.

This Indians team will be the busiest on the basepaths in head coach Jim Ozella’s 11 seasons.

Through seven games, Hart has stolen 29 bases.

Nolan Simons has eight and Daniel Dietz has seven.

What Hart doesn’t have is power – zero home runs thus far.

“We’re going to party when we home run,” Ozella said. “I don’t know how many we’re going to hit and I really don’t care. ... I think we’re pretty exciting.”

Another thing Hart has going for it is its defense.

Ozella said it starts with Valaika, who he calls the best defensive shortstop he has ever had — huge praise considering the run of great shortstops the Indians had last decade.

As for pitching, Hart could be one of the more situational pitching teams in the valley out of the bullpen.

A trio of arms — James Scott, Josh Wagner and Alex Tenorio will get the starts.

Hart’s starting pitching faltered early in an April 15, 2009 game to Golden Valley, allowing the Grizzlies to sneak away with a victory.

It was a historic one for Golden Valley — the first ever win over the Indians.

The Grizzlies also swept Canyon in league last year, opening up a lot of eyes.

Yet head coach Scott Drootin is unsure if his team can build on that success.

Golden Valley is extremely young, but this is the most talent that the program has ever had.

All-Foothill second teamer Kamran Young has already got off to a strong offensive start, but he is one of only a few senior regulars.

“I don’t have a real read on this team yet,” Drootin said. “It’s a growing process and a learning process. How far they go is up to them. It wouldn’t surprise me if we upset some big teams or lose to teams we should have beat.”

The future is very bright, though.

Two freshmen — Billy Fredrick and Riley Sherwood — have already made impacts.

Fredrick has made the biggest, batting .526 with five doubles through six games.

On the mound, projected No. 1 pitcher Josh Smith has yet to take the hill, due to a tired arm.

Golden Valley is leaning on junior Scott Barlow to be consistent.

Against Eastside of Lancaster on March 10, he struck out 17 batters.

As surprising as Golden Valley was last season, so was Canyon.

Just not in the right way.

The Cowboys had an uncharacteristic 2-24 season, finishing 0-15 in the Foothill League.

Head coach Adam Schulhofer said his return to leading the program was definitely not what he expected, but there were lessons learned.

“I learned that if you don’t have the best product on the field you have to continue to fix it, to persevere, have patience in guys’ development,” Schulhofer said.

Canyon is still in the building process, but appears to be better off this year than last.

The Cowboys will benefit from returners Patrick Roxbury, Icezack Fleming and Kyle Pressman, who all saw significant playing time last season.

A major downfall for Canyon in 2009 was its pitching.

The Cowboys are hoping Fleming and Thomas Kratky continue to pitch well.

Schulhofer has a reputation for being a pitching guy. He is hoping to develop pitching throughout the program so that Canyon can once again be a challenger in the Foothill League.

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