Traditionally, the Long Beach/Southeast area is one of excellent high school baseball teams. That tradition continues this season. And the teams that have been consistently at the top are at the top again. The best? It's too soon to tell, but the contenders for the No. 1 team in the area will likely be Lakewood, Poly, Millikan, Gahr, St. John Bosco, St. Paul and St. Anthony, all schools which never leave any doubt that they can play the game.
A preview of all the area teams: MOORE LEAGUE
Lakewood's loaded, which is no surprise. "I probably have five or six college prospects," said Coach Spud O'Neil. O'Neil has an ace pitcher in Mike McNary, but because his other pitchers are unproven he believes Poly should be the league favorite.
"We have a strong hitting team and are good defensively," O'Neil said. Top players are designated hitter Glenn Davis; Scott Ewart, one of the best outfielders in the league; shortstop Troy Hammell, who homered in the pre-season against Tustin's Steve Surico, one of Southern California's top pitchers; second baseman Wayne Tennis, and speedy outfielder Jeff Bowman, a transfer from Brethren whom O'Neil believes will be outstanding.
McNary, a curve-balling junior, struck out 18 batters in 11 innings in the pre-season.
Millikan Coach Dan Peters said anyone has a chance to finish second behind Lakewood. His Rams, 21-6 last year and a perennial power, are a good bet for that spot.
Millikan has three good hitters in outfielders Ralph Lakin and Jason Von Arx and first baseman Steve Shinar. Still, this is the first season Peters has been skeptical about his hitting.
Pitching No Problem
Pitching is no problem with Kevin Gail, who had 40 strikeouts last year, and Phil Kendall, who has been impressive in pre-season. Kendall, a junior, also plays shortstop.
Poly's pride is Erick Bryant, who has been almost untouchable in two years, losing one league game. He was 7-0 last season with a 1.19 earned-run average. "He is so good," O'Neil said.
The Jackrabbits should live up to their nickname on the bases, and they have big bats, too, in catcher Tommy Stiles, who hit .415 in the league last year, and first baseman Scott Moore, an intimidating cleanup batter at 6 feet 5 and 215 pounds. Moore is also a talented pitcher.
There's not a lot of experience, however--Poly Coach Joe Perruccio lost six good starters from last year's 21-8 team. Poly defeated Gahr, 4-2, in a pre-season game.
Compton, Jordan and Wilson have improved, but probably not enough to reach the playoffs.
Compton had a porous defense last year, which was reflected in a 5-18 record, but Coach David Hefflin said, "We are going to be in the top three." Hefflin sees improvement mainly because of junior pitcher Rafael Avila and senior outfielder Keith Stillwell, who hit .288 last year.
Jordan has pitching in Fred White and Mike Cox, but the Panthers' success will depend on their offense, which was impotent last year. Coach Bill Powell is counting on shortstop Ole Koehmstedt, who batted .270 last year. The Panthers came out swinging in a pre-season game, beating Pius X, 19-4.
Wilson is a young team, composed mostly of players who were on the league-champion JV team last year, a fact that impresses Lakewood's O'Neil. Top Bruins include pitcher Ivan Morfin, who has been impressive in pre-season; catcher Tony Tijernia and first baseman Ron Kelly, the team's top hitter last season at .382. S. G. VALLEY LEAGUE
Gahr returns key players from last year's 26-4 team and is ranked No. 1 in the Southern Section's 3-A poll.
"We are probably the front-runner in the league," Coach Tom Bergeron said, and the league's other coaches don't disagree when they look at Bergeron's array of good hitters.
Returning Gladiators and their sparkling batting averages of a year ago: right fielder Pat Redaja (.462), outfielder-third baseman Sean Alves (.428), shortstop Vern Hildebrandt (.382) and center fielder Keith Harrison (.358).
Steve Vernola, who was 11-2 with a 1.58 ERA last year, is an all-league pitcher recovering from a sore arm. He is backed by Galen Ramirez and the left-handed Harrison.
To bring his players closer to one another, Bergeron took them on a pre-season outing to Big Bear, where, he said, some of them saw snow for the first time.
Cerritos lost most of its players from a 16-9 team but the league coaches see the Dons, a traditional baseball power, as Gahr's top challenger. All-league outfielder John Hakopian, who hit .350, is back, as is pitcher-first baseman Greg Pilioglas. Coach Vern Brock is counting on senior pitcher David Lee, a left-hander who has not allowed an earned run in 17 pre-season innings. Brock's top newcomer on a good defensive team is shortstop Trevor Eldridge.
'League Is Very Even'
"The league is very even," Brock said. "Every team has a shot at the playoffs."
Downey, which finished second last year, lost all of its starters, but replacements come from a good JV team. Shortstop Ed Renteria and second baseman Steve White are key players for Coach Fred Yanez.