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The youth is now ready for Saugus baseball

Posted: March 14, 2008 2:45 a.m.
Updated: May 15, 2008 5:02 a.m.

Michael Brown, West Ranch High.

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Three years ago it was pretty evident what the 2008 Foothill League baseball landscape would look like - at least at the top of the hill.

Saugus baseball was built for this season.

Head coach John Maggiora, in his first season, rebuilt the Centurions around youth.

That youth has blossomed.

Three players are bound for NCAA Division I colleges on scholarship, one of which recently represented Team USA in Venezuela.

On top of that is a solid surrounding cast, a lethal top-5 in the lineup and depth in arms.

With all of that, Saugus is well suited for a run to the Foothill League title.

"That's the expectations we put on ourselves," Maggiora said. "We know our expectation is to win."

Win how much?

This valley hasn't a CIF-Southern Section champion since the 1999 Hart Indians.

Saugus has the talent to compete for one.

"Oh absolutely," said West Ranch head coach Casey Burrill. "It's a testament to the players they have there."

The reward was a preseason state ranking of No. 18 by CalHiSports.com.

That last CIF title team featured current Tampa Bay Rays pitcher James Shields and former Sonoma State starter Justin Wiley.

Valencia head coach Jared Snyder said this year's Hart team has the best pitching staff since that '99 team.

Michael Montgomery, a left-hander in his third varsity season, is the biggest talked about pitcher in the area - based on his draftability and commitment to Cal State Fullerton.

But the hard-throwing lefty is joined by junior Trevor Bauer, who has also turned heads with his ability on the mound.

On Tuesday he struck out 16 batters.

Montgomery had a near no-hitter last week, losing it in the seventh inning.

Pitching won't be the issue for Hart.

"I think we can win when everybody's on the same cylinder and on the same page," said Hart High head coach Jim Ozella. "We've had a couple of guys who haven't hit that we think can hit. And we've had some shaky defense."

Hart is another team with a load of college baseball-bound layers.

Jenzen Torres has a heavy stick in the Indians lineup and is surrounded by guys who can make contact, but defense and scoring runs will be heavy keys.

Hart hasn't been solid defensively on the corners over the last couple of years and will need to improve to continue its streak of being the last team standing from the Foothill in the playoffs.

It now stands at four seasons.

Normally that other team that would occupy the next space - playoff talk - would be Valencia, but the Vikings lost a ton of talent from the 2007 Foothill title team.

West Ranch is now occupying that space because of its growth and experience.

It's a no-brainer, Burrill said, that Michael Browne - the league's best offensive catcher, almost Russell Martin like with his speed ability to hit - and 6-foot-5 masher Jake Bernard bat three-four in the lineup.

"I'd be fired if I didn't (bat them three-four)."

The Wildcats have a strong lineup and a good pair of arms in Charlie Gillies and returning from injury C.J. Woldanski.

They also have 18 returners.

"West Ranch is the real deal," said Valencia head coach Jared Snyder.

"If people don't look out for West Ranch, Casey's will take them somewhere."

Valencia, though, does have the league's returning player of the year in Robbie Mouselli, who locates well on the mound and is multi-faceted at the plate.

He is also joined by returning No. 2 starter Josh Corrales.

But the Vikings are a big offensive question.

They'll have to win a lot of low-scoring games to stay in contention and Snyder knows it.

A former minor league catcher, Snyder also has an issue at backstop as he still has competition for one of the most important positions on his team.

A feather in his cap is that he has the most celebrated freshman player maybe this decade in shortstop Christian Lopes, who was regularly rated as one of the top youth players in the nation.

"He's our shortstop. He's our leadoff hitter. Regardless of age or anything, we will lean on him," Snyder said. "He is a young man we can lean on because he's mature enough to handle it. We've never leaned on a freshman as we have on Christian."

Canyon is dealing with a lot of things that Valencia is.

The Cowboys lost 17 seniors from last season's team and it showed immediately. Canyon had a bad summer, finishing 4-16.

But second-year head coach Brandon Montemayor said he's optimistic.

Austin Engel, a hard-to-rattle starter, will anchor the pitching staff.

From there, Montemayor said his team will have to rely on smart baseball.

A disciple of Hart High legend Bud Murray, Montemayor will focus on certain elements of the game.

Canyon will have to beat teams by playing better defense, executing bunts and hit and runs and knocking in runners in scoring position.

"We're going to have to play smarter than anyone else," Montemayor said. "We've been really on that - about being a step ahead and executing."

In that same vein, Golden Valley will have to compete differently than many other teams.

First-year head coach Tom Hamilton has only 12 guys on his roster.

Not very deep, he will rely heavily on Chipper Smith to improve on a solid junior season from the mound.

"I think our goal is to be competitive," Hamilton said. "Keep them at a close score in order to win. Wins might be a little hard to come by. We just want to make it a close game where we have a chance."

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