Posted on 01 March 2014 by La Habra Journal
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Last season, the Sonora boys’ baseball team accomplished a rare feat when it won the Freeway League championship with a five-game cushion over its closest competitors.
This season, Head Coach Pat Tellers doesn’t see any team running away in the Freeway League, but with a handful of returning players and some key up-and-comers, the Raiders should have enough to be in contention for another title in 2014.
“We have a lot of guys coming back and the expectations are high,” said Pat Tellers, Sonora head coach. “I think they’re ready to go, I know they’re excited.”
As always, Tellers’ first priority with this year’s team is in its defense, making routine plays and not allowing opponents extra outs.
Last season, sophomore pitcher JP Sarro was a beneficiary of that defense, leading to a 9-2 record, a 1.88 earned run average and a 1st Team All-Freeway League selection.
Returning as a junior, Sarro will lead a pitching staff consisting of eight arms that Tellers said he is comfortable in putting on the mound.
Seniors Evan Sonny and Gavin Blodgett look to be early candidates for the No. 2 starting job come league play.
“Both our top two starters are coming back,” Tellers said. “With those two, along with another guy in Gabe Armstrong, who is our hardest thrower, we’ve got three guys and nothing has been determined as to who the two starters are going to be. All three have thrown well of late and we’re really looking forward to having them as starters.”
On the field, Tellers has a good idea of where his starters fit and said it helps to have the left side of the infield already taken care of, with Blodgett returning at shortstop and senior Henry Bustamante returning to play third base.
On the right side, Tellers is excited about the potential of second baseman Mauricio Guadaramma, who Tellers said could be the best defensive player on this year’s squad, while at first base the 24th year head coach has some options with Sonny, Armstrong and newcomer Justin Kim.
“He’s just phenomenal with the glove and he’s really improved with his bat,” Tellers said of Guadaramma. “We think he could hit .300-plus for us where as last year, the average from that position was pretty low.”
The outfield will consist of big sophomore Jake Rosander, who at the plate has a ton of bat speed, Justin Mellano and Jose Gomez, who returns for his senior season.
Behind the plate for the majority of Sonora’s games this season, will be Andrew Piraino, who was named the Freeway League’s Most Valuable Player last season.
“We’re pretty deep in pitching, we can throw seven or eight guys out there,” Tellers said. “Defensively, we want to make the routine plays and the ones that are hard are bonuses. We just want to remember the fundamentals behind our pitching. If we fall apart with two outs and guys are throwing the ball away with runners on base, that’s going to kill us. We can’t allow that to happen.”
Offensively, Tellers is excited about the potential his team has to string together hits and drive in some runs.
Before the start of the season, Tellers decided to make a little switch in his lineup that could make a big difference this season.
Piraino, who hit .495 a season ago with 48 hits, will move down a spot to bat cleanup, while Blodgett will switch and move up to the third spot to start the year.
“Teams are going to have to pitch to Gavin and if they don’t, then they definitely have to pitch to Andrew,” Tellers said. “Now Gavin has been getting a lot of fastballs and hitting them a ton in fall and winter ball and then they still have Andrew coming up after that, followed by Rosander, Lopez and Bustamante. The key is in our leadoff guys, if they can get on, we should be in good shape.”
In addition to the power in the heart of the lineup, Tellers has stacked the middle of the order with experience and some power to help bring home runs.
“The heart of our lineup is going to be really tough, those guys can power it to the gaps,” he said.
Also, over the course of the offseason, Tellers had his team lift three times a week and brought in a speed coach from Speed Burners, which has helped with the team’s speed and athleticism.
To get ready for the season, the Raiders played some tough opponents in fall and winter ball.
In getting ready for the Freeway League, Sonora will open up its season with a double-header against Fountain Valley before running a five-game swing in the always-tough Loara Tournament.
After its first two league games, the Raiders will play in the Anaheim Lions Tournament.
“We’re usually lucky if we finish 3-4 after the first two weeks, it would be nice to run a 5-2 start,” Tellers said. “I just want to see our guys make the routine play. For us, it comes down to making a play for your pitcher in a tight game and we’re not doing it. I’m not sure if they’re just tightening up, but it’s hurt us early. We just want to stay fundamentally sound defensively in tight situations.”
Tellers believes that the Freeway League will not be dominated by one team this season, stating that perhaps even a 12-3 record could win a title.
The head coach believes that while his team should be in contention, Fullerton returns a good core of players that could make that feat pretty tricky. Tellers sees Troy as an outside shot at contending, but making improvements as well.
“Fullerton has a lot of guys back and we hit each other pretty well last year, but their key will be on the mound and how those kids handle it,” Tellers said. “I think they’re going to be one of the stronger ones in the league and then I think Troy will be tough, they have quite a few back from last year’s team and they have [starting pitcher Joe] Richardson back, and then La Habra’s a little down, but Jake Tourville hit the ball hard against us last year. I think those should be the top four teams, but it’ll be interesting.”
The Raiders start their season this coming Tuesday, March 4, with a doubleheader at home against Fountain Valley starting at noon.
With a 16-13 record in his first season as La Habra head coach, John Sothern considered his team’s accomplishments an overall success as the team finished second in the Freeway League and fought through a wild-card game to make the official CIF playoff bracket.
The team ultimately lost to La Serna, but after the season, the team also lost a large number of players to graduation, returning only seven players to this year’s squad.
In addition, the team also lost last year’s Freeway League Pitcher of the Year in Sean Sparling and its leading offensive power in Zach Ferreira, a 1st-team All-League selection.
“Last year was tough in terms of trying to implement a new system, but about halfway through the year we kind of took off,” Sothern said. “It was nice to see them evolve throughout the year and it ended up being a pretty good deal for us. To work our way into the playoffs, it was rewarding and we’re seeing even more change in the culture here.”
While this year’s team might not have the big name notoriety that the program has had in the recent past, Sothern likes the way this team has been executing in fall and winter ball, leading up to the 2014 season.
With one year under his belt, Sothern is further implementing his system and noticing that the players are starting to adapt better to it.
“We’re seeing even more change in the culture here,” Sothern said. “They have a strong desire to play in college and move on, which is something we were really adamate about bringing to the program.”
Of the seven returners, La Habra’s offensive leader could be catcher Austin Saad. A first-team All-League selection, Saad finished last season with a .312 batting average and came up with some clutch hits in Freeway League play.
Other returning players with experience include third baseman Garrett Molnar, first baseman Jake Tourville and outfielder Andrew Gallegos, who could be the team’s No. 1 starter this season.
Robby Leffler is the early favorite to be the team’s No. 2 pitcher this season and earned plenty of experience a season ago as a relief pitcher.
“We’ve got two every day guys coming back and all the returners are doing a good job with leadership, but it’s a huge turnover,” Sothern said. “With that, you get some inexperience and some growing pains. Austin and Andrew are going to be huge, I don’t know if you can quantify how big their roles are this season. It’s not just the on-field performance, but leading by example and that’s something that can be contagious.”
In addition, Sothern has six other arms that he believes can get the job done, whether in relief roles, or added starters in tournaments.
Junior Ricky Garcia and senior Chris Nuanes could claim those final two starting spots in the Highlanders’ two tournaments.
“I think top-to-bottom, we’re better than we were last year, we just don’t have that guy that we know will shut teams down,” Sothern said.
Aside from the returning players, Sothern is also excited about some of the new faces on the team this year, including Michael Borg, who will start the season playing at first base while Tourville recovers from a wrist injury.
Junior Kyle Schuh, who Sothern said executes well all around, will start at second base, with Mike Wheeler coming in with good bat power at the third base position.
But Sothern is most excited about his outfielders, which consists of Gallegos, Nuanes, Jordan Smith, Cody Sciacca and Brad Hoffrichter.
“Our outfield is very quick, we have five guys who could fill spots out there and really go get it, they throw really well,” Sothern said. “They can cut off balls and hold opponents to a single. It’s a solid outfield.”
Offensively, the focus is the same for the Highlanders this season, getting runners on base, moving them into scoring position and getting key hits to drive them in.
Sothern believes that this team should have the ability to execute that gameplan well.
“We should be more offensive than last year, which shouldn’t be too hard,” Sothern said. “Last year, with Sean on the mound, if we got one run across, that was good in seven of those starts. The execution has been better than it was last year in terms of getting bunts down, moving runners over and getting them home from third base. It’s a more evolved offense than it was last year.”
To get ready for the season, the Highlanders played a grueling offseason schedule, including games against El Dorado, Beckman and Mission Viejo, among others.
La Habra will start the season in the Newport Elks Tournament before jumping into Freeway League play.
The Highlanders will also play in the Anaheim Lions Tournament after a pair of Freeway League games.
“From the defense aspect, we’ve struggled in the infield, those guys were JV guys last year and now this is the next level,” Sothern said. “I just want to see the ability to make the routine play, I don’t care about the great play. If we don’t make routine plays, it can get ugly in a hurry.”
While Sothern acknowledges that some teams look strong in the Freeway League this season, he also believes that if the team executes the way it’s been practicing in the offseason, it should compete for a playoff spot this season.
“I still feel like we can compete, we’ll just see how it goes,” Sothern said. “I’m not overly worried about it, we just have to go with the mentality of competing in every game, not just the teams that are considered favorites. I think we’re on the verge of taking a big jump in the next couple years.”
The Highlanders will start their 2014 campaign with a road game against Katella in the Newport Elks Tournament next Thursday at 3 p.m. at Boysen Park in Anaheim.
After falling a game shy of a league title last season, the Whittier Christian baseball team looks to compete for an Olympic League title again in the 2014 season.
Going into the final week of the regular season, the Heralds needed a sweep of Maranatha to win the Olympic League. Unfortunately, Whittier Christian lost the first game of the home-and-home series, surrendering the crown to the Minutemen.
Fourth year head coach Brent Lavoie believes that the Olympic League will be extremely competitive again this season.
“Last year, the league was consistent top to bottom,” said Brent Lavoie, Whittier Christian head coach. “I would say we’re right there in the mix again this year. The top three could be separated by a game.”
Despite losing pitcher Colin Ashworth, who won last year’s Olympic League Most Valuable Player, the Heralds return a strong nucleus of starters from last season, led by pitcher and shortstop Mike Rafter, who compiled a 4-3 record with a 1.28 ERA last season.
At the plate, Rafter collected 33 hits to the tune of a .429 batting average and earned 1st Team All-League honors last season.
He will be called upon to lead this year’s squad as well.
“Overall, guys are taking initiative this season,” Lavoie said. “I think this team has bonded better already than teams past and the leaders do so by example.”
Other returners include brother and center fielder Brian Rafter, along with fellow 1st Team All-League selection Mike Rubio, who will help out at second base and on the mound.
Cooper Hughes returns to help with the pitchers as the team’s starting catcher and Joseph Cobian will help on the mound and at third base.
“We’re really excited about the experience returning this year,” Lavoie said. “We have guys back that have been in a starting lineup. Cooper could have a big, fun year, he’s really developing as a player and a leader, he’ll probably be one of our best when all is said and done.”
However, the Heralds did lose a couple key pieces as well, as Parker Subia will forego his senior year in baseball to focus on preparing for collegiate football and sophomore Austin Hust transferred to Brea Olinda after last season.
Still, Lavoie is excited about the potential of some kids filling key roles.
Lavoie believes that this year’s team has the potential to supply plenty of runs for its pitching staff. The fourth year coach is setting a goal to score one run per inning.
“We return a lot of experience and I think this team is going to swing it better than the last two years,” Lavoie said. “I’m excited about letting them swing. Our goal is to score seven runs every game, if we can do that, with the pitching we have, we should have some success.”
Those runs should be more than enough for a pitching staff that enjoyed some success last season. Aside from Rafter, Rubio and Cobian, Lavoie also has Jake Rivera, who could fill in as the team’s fourth starter in tournaments and could challenge for a starting job.
“You can’t fill shoes like Ashworth’s, but Mike Rafter is going to be a big guy for us,” Lavoie said. “We have a couple arms that started to surface last year, like Jake Rivera, who is making the transition from basketball. I have three guys who can fall anywhere from a No. 2 to a No. 4 on the mound. I think Chris Thompson will really emerge, right now he would be our No. 2 if the season started today. We’re looking for big innings out of him.”
Defensively, Lavoie has experience in the infield with Cobian, Mike Rafter and Rubio and speed in the outfield with Trevor McGee, Brian Rafter and Damon Holm, with help from Logan Contreras.
“Balls that would drop last year, those guys can chase them down this year,” Lavoie said. “Defensively, I think we’ll be pretty good.”
The one spot that Lavoie will have to make a decision on will be at first base, as he has a couple of options to work with depending on who is swinging a hot bat at the time.
That spot will hopefully be solidified during the Newport Elks Tournament, which kicks off the Heralds’ season again this year. Whittier Christian will also travel to Arizona for its spring break tournament as a chance to see some different styles of baseball.
The Coach Bob Invitational in Arizona will also give the team a chance to build upon its team chemistry.
In addition to the tournaments, Whittier Christian will play doubleheaders against Whittier, Montebello and Santa Ana.
“We’re just looking to solidify some things in our lineup and see who is going to win that spot at first base,” Lavoie said about what he hopes to accomplish in nonleague play. “We hope to get some of those early season butterflies out, it’s always nice to mix in a win, but a loss can be a good learning experience and if you’re going to do it, you want it to be in tournament season.”
It will set up Whittier Christian for a league schedule that will most likely be as challenging for everyone as it was last season.
Lavoie sees his team battling against both Valley Christian and Village Christian for the Olympic League title this season.
“I think it’s one of us three that’s going to win, right away, I’d say Village could be the favorite, but Maranatha also returns two very good starters that throw hard, both of those teams are going to pitch,” Lavoie said. “Village just plays well at the right time, they made a deep playoff run last year and they’re well coached.”
Whittier Christian’s season opens up with a tournament game at Santa Ana, next Thursday at 3 p.m.