With the season starting two weeks earlier than in years prior and rain forcing multiple games to be rescheduled, Foothill League baseball has been off to an unusual start.
But there are a few things that are consistent with prior seasons. Depth in pitching, hard hitting and all-around competitiveness are abounding in the young 2019 Foothill League baseball season.
Hart enters this season as the reigning Foothill League champions, but the Indians are a markedly different team from last year.
Returning players Rocco Saldivar, Cooper Austin and Isaac Kim are all sidelined due to injury with no timetable to return. Saldivar has a fractured jaw, Austin has a fractured arm and Kim has a pulled hamstring.
Hart dropped its first two games to West Ranch as its shuffled lineup tried to find its way before beating Golden Valley in the third contest of the league season.
“There’s six sophomores on this team,” coach Jim Ozella said after a 3-0 loss to West Ranch on Feb. 27. “You know, we have to make a quick adjustment because we are in the Foothill League. So nobody is feeling sorry for us, we’re not feeling sorry for ourselves. It’s just the way life is in baseball. This happens sometimes.”
One of those sophomores is Ryan Benz, who currently owns a .174 batting average on the season as a whole in addition to four runs, two RBIs and two doubles.
Benz provides needed support in a lineup that’s seen production from Kendall Thomas and Pat Arman. Thomas has a .333 average with six RBIs, three doubles and two home runs.
Arman has been pulling double duty, both hitting and pitching. He has a .320 average with three RBIs and a double at the plate. On the mound, in 11 1/3 innings, Arman has a 1.24 ERA. He’s given up nine hits and allowed two runs while recording 10 strikeouts.
“He’s one of our best hitters,” Ozella said. “And he pitches, so he’s got a couple of roles. He’s a first baseman, he’s a senior. He’s got to keep his head about him, be mature and he’s done a good job of that and we’re real happy with that.”
West Ranch, last season’s Foothill League runner-ups, looked strong in its opening two games against Hart, but dropped the third game of the league season to Saugus.
One thing that was consistent throughout the three games was pitching. JD Callahan, Trent Bird and Cade Nicol all return as reliable pitchers for this season.
Callahan has a 1.71 ERA overall this season and have given up 13 hits while striking out 18 batters in 16 1/3 innings. Bird owns a 1.54 ERA and has yielded 11 hits and recorded 11 strikeouts in 13 2/3 innings. Nicol’s ERA is 2.33, and he’s given up 11 hits and logged 13 strikeouts in 15 innings.
“Our pitching staff is fantastic,” West Ranch assistant coach Ryan Lindgreen said after the Wildcats’ first win over Hart. “They just do a good job of pushing each other day in and day out whether it’s in practice, whether it’s in bullpen sessions … They do a great job of pushing each other to be really good and we’re the benefactors of that.”
The Cats return the outfield of Jovan Camacho, Ryan Camacho and Garrett Monheim to provide support defensively. The trio is also productive at the plate.
Jovan, the leadoff hitter, has a .263 batting average throughout all games this season with one RBI and one double. Ryan is often the one driving Jovan home as the third batter in the lineup. He has a .364 batting average, seven RBIs, two doubles and one triple.
Monheim has been responsible for much of West Ranch’s scoring this season with a team-high eight RBIs. He’s been the only player to hit a home run and owns a .333 batting average.
After making it to the playoffs last season with a sophomore-heavy roster, Valencia is a team with plenty of experience.
“We had tons of sophomores that played big roles for us last year and it was nice for them to see what it’s going to take,” said coach Mike Killinger. “A lot of them have taken that as a challenge and they realize that nothing is going to come easy and they have to work hard for it.”
Tyler Robitaille, a junior, has been the Vikings’ go-to guy on the mound. With a 3-0 record, Robitaille owns a 2.86 ERA. He’s yielded 12 hits and struck out 32 batters. Mitchell Torres provides support and has a 1.62 ERA, giving up four hits and recording 16 strikeouts.
“He played some varsity as a sophomore last year and he had some good and some bad and he’s really changed the way he attacks the hitters,” Killinger said. “Throwing lots of strikes and taking the game to the hitters.”
Davis Cop has become a leader on the team as a senior captain and has the skill to go with it, too. At the start of the season, he was slated to play at catcher. But after third baseman Steven Gonzalez broke his thumb, Cop was moved to third base.
He leads the team in hitting with a .471 batting average. Along with that, he has eight RBIs, four doubles, a triple and two home runs.
“He’s definitely the spark plug on the team,” Killinger said.
Saugus just missed out on making the playoffs last season, finishing fourth in league, but could contend for a top 3 finish this year. The Centurions dropped their first two games to Valencia before beating West Ranch in their third outing.
“We’re still trying to work our way to the top,” Saugus coach Carl Grissom said after beating the Wildcats. “West Ranch and Hart and Valencia are still the cream of the crop and we’re just trying to get in there.”
The Cents are another team with a highly capable pitcher. Bobby Garcia nearly threw a complete game shutout against West Ranch, but was subbed out for Anthony Ramirez after 6 2/3 innings. Across 25 2/3 innings, Garcia has a 1.36 ERA and has allowed 13 hits while recording 23 strikeouts.
“He’s been lights out since last summer,” Grissom said of Garcia after beating West Ranch. “He’s been pitching really well and it’s unfortunate, we haven’t been hitting and so he’s had to take the tough-luck losses.”
Saugus was able to manufacture only two runs in the first two games of Foothill League play, but that doesn’t mean the team doesn’t have the potential to.
Tony Jacob has been the Cents’ leading hitter with a .300 average and three RBIs. Brandyn Cruz isn’t far behind him with a .294 average and five RBIs. Each have hit two doubles apiece.
Under first-year head coach Justin Stark, Canyon is out to a 2-1 start in league play.
Charles Harrison and Jace Root have been splitting time on the mound, with the former owning a 3.43 ERA and the latter a 2.10 ERA.
Harrison has also been clutch at the plate, with a .273 batting average, four RBIs and four doubles overall this season. Tyler DeYoung (.367) and Noah Blythe (.182) also have four RBIs on the season.
Golden Valley has yet to win a Foothill League game, but opened with a 4-2 preleague record.
In their first game of the series against Canyon, Bryson James allowed one run and recorded three strikeouts in five innings. The Grizzlies are working on cutting down on errors and providing run support.
Dylan Daszek is the team’s leadoff hitter and Chase Hwang provides power in the middle of the lineup. Steven Moreno and Nicholas Marino are also capable of providing run support.
Foothill League baseball resumes on Friday. Golden Valley will host Hart, Valencia will be at Canyon and West Ranch will be at Saugus. All games are scheduled for 3 p.m.