Golden Valley, Hart and Saugus baseball prepare for VIBL playoffs

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The Valley Invitational Baseball League playoffs begin today and a few Foothill League teams will have the opportunity to win the VIBL title as well as make some final summer adjustments as a team.

Hart brings a winning VIBL record into the playoffs and the sense of being a complete team is settling in, according to coach Jim Ozella.

“Our intent was to kind of get things back to the way to do things the right way,” he said. “We’ve made a lot of strides in that area. Overall, I’ve been very happy with what I’ve seen. A lot of progress.”

The Indians are looking different than they did in the spring. After University of Arizona commit Jakob Marquez transferred to Valencia, Matt Quintanar has seized the opportunity to become a starting catcher. And he’s had some good at-bats, too.

Quintanar, who was on JV last season, is comfortable catching both new and returning pitchers and has put in extra effort in the weight room as well.

“He had an up and down JV season, but boy he is really catching fire here in the summer and put himself on the map,” Ozella said. “A lot of people have seen him, a lot of college guys have seen him and been very impressed. 

“Opportunity. What you do with your opportunity, that’s what happens. He’s done a good job of taking advantage.”

On the mound, Daniel Parra has been throwing in the high 80s throughout the summer and has cleaned up his game, making less mistakes. Warner Rhodes is capable as well and has been improving his location.

Ryan Benz is healthy after dealing with an injury in spring and has been contributing in the batting order. Isaac Kim is also healthy this summer after an ankle injury limited him in the spring. He and Tyler Vannix have been leaders offensively.

Saugus is coming into the VIBL playoffs strong, going 3-1 in the California Classic July 6-7. 

“It was good for us,” said coach Carl Grissom of his team’s experience in the California Classic. “We need to play good teams and teams that we don’t normally see and it’s very helpful in our learning curve to get better.”

Grissom has pulled up multiple players from last season’s freshman team, more than he’s pulled up from the JV team, he estimates. From the freshman team, he expects Ryan Egan and Michael Durham to compete for starting positions. Carson Knapp and Nolan Swailes could also work their way into the pitching rotation.

Connor Nassry, who was called up from JV towards the end of the spring season, has been maturing this summer, especially when it comes to dealing with failure.

“He continues to try to work during the summer and when we had our camp he’s the first one there, taking early BP, doing whatever he could to try to improve himself,” Grissom said. “He’s also one of the smartest kids on the team. The guys that are the smart kids in the classroom seem to be the hardest workers on the field.”

Golden Valley is seeing offensive power from three players in particular: Josh Lee, Chase Hwang and Joe Behan.

Coach Matt Sorenson said Lee, an infielder and power hitter, has all the physical attributes and also has a high IQ for the game.

“He’s a cerebral player, so he really understands the game on a detailed level and it usually puts him in a position to be successful,” Sorenson said. “It seems like he’s kind of a step ahead of the game mentally and so he’s usually ready for whatever comes at hand defensively or when he’s at the plate.”

This season’s incoming senior class is athletic and highlighted by Gabriel Montiel, a utility player who has a good chance to contribute in the starting lineup. He primarily plays catcher, but is also capable in the infield.

“He’s versatile and he’s one of those kids who you can always count on,” Sorenson said. “Great attitude, hard worker and he’s skilled.”

Golden Valley plays St. Francis at the Glendale Sports Complex at 4 p.m. today, while Canyon will be at St. Bonaventure at 5 p.m.

On Monday, Hart will host Royal and Saugus will be at Cleveland. The winner of the Golden Valley-St. Francis game will be at El Camino and the winner of Canyon-St. Bonaventure will be at Westlake.

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