The start of Foothill League baseball season brings an equal sense of both excitement and speculation. Results from last season as well as this preleague can serve as indicators for success, but only so much. “My mentality is you prepare and then you are tested,” said Hart coach Jim Ozella. “… (Today) is test 1. It’s a whole new season. So have we prepared to be successful on test one, we’ll certainly see.” On paper, the Indians look to be one of the top candidates to take the league crown this season. But a few preleague hiccups are keeping Ozella from speaking too soon. Arizona signee Bryce Collins was set to be Hart’s go-to guy on the mound, but a case of severe mono in the winter and more recently, the flu, have kept Collins from his natural habitat. While the coaching staff is keeping Collins on a three-inning limit until he is completely back to form. In his absence, senior Ryan Carolan and sophomore Warner Rodes have has filled in admirably. “He’s kind of stood out for being competitive and with Collins out, we’re looking for people to fill innings,” said Ozella of Rodes. Hart’s top returning talent looks to be Cole Roederer, a UCLA commit who logged a .353 batting average last season to go with a .588 slugging percentage and 28 RBIs. “I would say that really what makes us go, Roederer is an important key,” Ozella said. “He stirs the drink a little bit.” The Indians play West Ranch today in their first league game of the season. The Wildcats have lost some key pieces, like pitcher Timmy Josten, to graduation, but still bring back a host of talent. Christos Stefanos and Will Chambers will be towards the top of the batting order after logging .396 and .392 batting averages, respectively, last season. Alex Burge was set to take over as starting pitcher, but arm pain has sidelined him for the time being. The Cats are still in a good spot, however, with UC Santa Barbara commit JD Callahan, Cade Nichols and Trent Bird all options at the position. “All these pitchers … are the reason we’ve had such a good start,” said West Ranch coach Casey Burrill. “We’ll lean on them for this first round of league play before we go to spring break.” Jovan Camacho, Ryan Camacho and Garrett Monheim return to comprise perhaps the best outfield in the league – or even the country if you’d ask Burrill.
Jovan and Ryan, both juniors, displayed raw talent at the plate last season and have since fine-tuned their game offensively. “The Camachos can also hit for average and power, but they’ve now shown the ability to do the small game, the stolen bases, moving of runners and all those other parts of the game,” Burrill said. “Last year they were just good athletes and hits now they’re more of a complete offensive hitter.” Valencia, the reigning Foothill League champions, enter the season with a slightly new look in several spots. One consistent element from the previous season is senior Lukas White. White logged a .344 batting average and .453 slugging percentage while also recording a 2.92 ERA on the mound in 13 2/3 innings. “Lukas has taken a nice leadership role and he is the type of kid who will give you a chance to win every time has on the mound,” said Vikings coach Mike Killinger. “He’ll give it everything he’s got.” At the moment, White is splitting time with Ryan Kysar at the starting spot. Clear roles won’t be defined until later. Jake Biscailuz has solidified his role as starting catcher after sharing the job with Shane Huey for the previous two seasons. Killinger said that he expects to start as many as six sophomores in any game this year, as the Vikes have added a handful of players from the JV and freshman teams. “It’s a very talented group,” Killinger said, “but growing pains come with playing a lot of the younger kids. We’ve had a few things here off and on in the fall. Lessons we need to teach and they’re starting come around pretty well.” Saugus, which finished fourth in league last season and Golden Valley, which finished fifth, each have new coaches this season. Carl Grissom has coached the Centurions to a 3-3-1 record in preleague. Hewitt Grissom, Chase Lindemann and Brandyn Cruz will likely lead the Cents offensively this season. “I have just tried to keep it loose,” said Grissom of the culture he’s trying to instill in his program. “I think they have adjusted well to it, but we have not started Foothill league play yet. Baseball is supposed to be fun, I just want them to relax have fun and enjoy their experience. Four years goes by fast.” The Grizzlies will be coached by former Cal State Fullerton pitcher Matt Sorenson. GV started strong last season, but stumbled to an 8-17 record as league came to a close. Canyon was the last-place finisher in the Foothill League in 2017, but showed signs of life with a young, eager and talented roster. With four seniors on the roster this time around, keep an eye out for some surprises from underclassmen like CJ Dowell, Aydyn Litz and pitcher Jace Root.