March 7, 2012West Coast Hoops
It seems each year that rival baseball teams at Lakewood High and Wilson High set the bar for excellence and battle to the wire for Moore League supremacy.
While this season is no different, the 2012 race may be the most anticipated in years thanks to the potential for two regular-season matchups between reigning Dream Team co-Pitchers of the Year Chase DeJong and Shane Watson.
Watson led Lakewood to a second consecutive Moore League championship and no pitcher dominated hitters like Wilson's DeJong. Both have signed letters of intent to play next season at USC, but most expect the hard-throwing duo to sign professional contracts this summer.
The March 30 showdown at Blair Field that pits Watson vs. DeJong will be, according to scouts' rankings, the best pitching matchup in the country this year, and is expected to draw some 5,000 fans on that Friday evening.
JP Crawford and Watson have been a huge part of two league championships and while Wilson is on the Lancers' heels, Lakewood (29-5-1, 11-1 in 2011) begins the season as the Press-Telegram's top-ranked program.
Watson was 11-2 last year with a 1.17 ERA and finished more games he started than anyone in the area because of a low pitch count.
The Lancers senior beat Poly twice and split with Wilson, including an eight-inning complete game victory
on a night DeJong threw an unofficial no-hitter.
"I really have my mind set on throwing a no-hitter and a perfect game this year, but I'm mostly concerned with helping my teammates and our program win a third straight Moore League title," Watson said. "We also want to win a CIF title and I think we have the talent and work ethic to contend for one."
Crawford (.362, 42 hits), a two-time Dream Teamer, is just a junior and already has 92 career hits. He's fleet of foot, solid at shortstop and sets the tone for Lakewood offensively.
Crawford also has already committed to USC and is arguably the best pure athlete in the area.
"I really want to play better defense this year and limit errors," Crawford said. "I want to score more runs this year and feel like my role is to keep everyone focused and determined to win each game."
Also returning for legendary coach Spud O'Neil include pitchers Nick Buska and Manny Reyes.
JP Yakel (.237, 18 hits), Ryan Dixon (.385, 15 hits), Nick Reeser (.325, 13 hits), Danny Kaeka (.295, 13 hits) and Blake Ronca will join Crawford in the infield.
O'Neil said Kaesen Wilson, Gabriel Quezada, Craig Hamil, Josh Green, Kyle Clary, Anthony Timmons, Seth Gutierrez, Ryan Lepore, Javier Alvarez, Sam Robertas and Ricky Winfield are all expected to get their first taste of varsity baseball.
"Our strength will be our pitching with Watson, Buska, Reyes, Green and Hamil," O'Neil said. "Crawford, Yakel, Kaeka, Reeser, Dixon, Colvin and Ronca are all keys to our offense being what we want it to be.
"We expect to be in contention for the Moore League title and to do well in the playoffs."
Elsewhere in the Moore League ...
Wilson (26-7, 10-2 in 2011) will go as far as DeJong can take the Bruins and the senior looks to improve on an amazing junior year where he went 11-2 with an 0.77 ERA.
DeJong struck out an area-best 98 batters in 78 innings, and led everyone with three playoff victories last year. He struck out 14 batters in the first round against King and won a gold medal in the offseason playing for the U.S. National Team.
He also hit .400 with 26 hits and is without question the area's most sought-after commodity by professional scouts.
"I transferred to Wilson (from Valley Christian) my sophomore year to win a CIF title and we're going to do everything we can to earn a league and CIF championship for our school," DeJong said. "I have a lot of talented teammates behind me and have all the confidence in the world in them. I can't wait for that first matchup with Lakewood, because they're the team to beat and Shane and I tend to have very exciting games when we battle the other."
Richards is the area's best player who never gets mentioned until now. The junior shortstop hit .455 with 25 hits and drove in 18 runs last year and has already committed to Cal State Fullerton.
Brett Harper (.279. 29 hits, 24 runs scored) comes off the football field to play center field and will likely be in the leadoff spot again.
Mike Zidek (.313, 21 hits), Matt Heavin (.275, 11 hits), Ryan Emma (.409, nine hits) and catcher Matt Maccarrone and Britt Barmeyer all return for coach Andy Hall.
Key additions this season include pitcher Mike Semonsen and Chris Betts.
"The Bruins expect to be in the hunt for a CIF and Moore League championship again," Hall said. "In our way are a division and league of very worthy opponents.
"If we want to win a league championship, we'll have to beat Lakewood, who seems to have a stranglehold on the league. We're excited, though, because of Chase and the rest of our roster and expect to have a very competitive club."
Poly (23-8, 9-3) is coming off an outstanding 2011 campaign and with the return of left-handed ace Chris Castellanos (8-2, 1.03 ERA), the Jackrabbits will be able to compete with anyone.
Senior outfielders Jeff Turley (.277) and Hayden Hunt (.278) are back, as are infielders Frankie Rios (.366), Julian Griego and pitcher Jeremiah Gordon (3-1, 0.88 ERA) for coach Toby Hess.
Kevin Maxey (outfielder), catcher Xavier Lavelle, third baseman Peter Fierros and pitcher Christian O'Keefe are expected to add depth to the Poly program.
"With the dominant pitching and aces in this league, combined with the advent of the BBCOR bat era, I expect defense will play the biggest role in the Moore League," Hess said. "Teams who can avoid walks and errors should do very well at Blair Field.
Millikan (13-17, 6-6) is perennially a playoff team behind coach Scott Glasser and his staff because of their ability to adapt to each new season's challenge's, including the loss or graduation of players.
While the Rams will certainly miss former third baseman/pitcher Jordan Ybarra's bat and arm after the Dream Teamer transferred to Downey, Glasser is excited about his new-look lineup and has moved his program forward.
James Norman (5-4, 2.88 ERA, 48 strikeouts) is the Rams ace and the senior lefty will eat up a great majority of innings this season.
JK McGill (4-4, 3.69 ERA, 32 strikeouts) is also someone who'll need to step up if the Rams are to challenge for a league championship.
Dream Team catcher Alex Antonaras (.338, 15 RBIs and 14 runs scored) will shine this season as should senior first baseman Jayson Casias.
Glasser expects infielders Johnny Weeks and Cody Heath and outfielder Giovanny Higueros to make solid contributions as key newcomers.
"The foundation and strength of our team is centered around our two senior starting pitchers, John McGill and James Norman, as well as our catcher, Alex Antonaras" Glasser said. "We're counting on them to be consistent inning-to-inning and game-to-game, so as the season develops the youth of our team progresses with it. We should be strong at the end when it counts."
Jordan (8-14, 3-9) improved substantially last year and the Panthers could sneak up on teams if senior right-hander Christian Hurtado (5-2, 2.77 ERA) continues to improve as expected.
Hurtado (.357, 20 hits) was hurt two years ago when he was struck in the head from a line drive, but is as tough and resilient as anyone in the area.
Jordan coach Marc Prager will use his son Kyle Prager (.318, 14 hits) on the mound as well as freshman Michael Hurtado, Leif Hokanson, Manuel Carrasco. Jovanny Quintero will be in the role of closer.
Carrasco will be in the leadoff spot and at shortstop, and infielders Robert De Leon and Phillip Berman all return for Prager.
Senior center fielder Cesar Miranda will be key on the base paths as the Panthers' speed demon.
"We are returning seven starters and we feel we are a legitimate playoff contender because of it," Prager said. "We are led by Christian Hurtado, who will pitch half our innings in league play. We are not a deep team, but our guys are versatile and can play multiple positions."
Cabrillo (6-17, 2-10) returns Dream Teamer Louie Terrazas, who has hit over .300 in his first three varsity seasons.
Utility senior Wesley Madera, center fielder Salvador Ponce, cleanup hitter Travis Bonner and pitcher Marcos Aguiar all return for coach Erick Bryant.
Darren Johnson, who played running back on the Jaguars football team, Juan Carlos, Javier Rubio and Aaron Brooks are all key additions to Cabrillo's roster.
"I'm always excited this time of year," Bryant said. "We know we can play, but it's about building consistency and playing Cabrillo defense. With our new arms, if we're able to eliminate errors, we can play with anyone. On any given day, we can make this thing interesting."
Compton (3-22, 1-11) probably won't be a factor, but the Tarbabes look to improve on a dismal 2011 season in which they were outscored by 260 runs and finished the year on an eight-game losing streak.
Second-year coach Matt Bellomo is struggling to find enough players to field a competitive team.
Pitcher/first baseman Miguel Hernandez, pitcher/outfielder Luis Damas and newcomer Andy Rosales are expected to excel for Bellomo.