It was not the best of times for San Gabriel Valley baseball teams last season.
Not only did a valley team fail to win a CIF Southern Section title for the first time since 1980, no team even reached the championship game in its division.
But don't be surprised if the results are much different this year.
Diamond Bar is considered a strong threat in the newly formed 5-A Division and Edgewood is a contender in 4-A, Arroyo in 3-A and Baldwin Park and San Marino in 2-A.
With outstanding pitching, Diamond Bar is the consensus choice among coaches as the top team in the valley. The next three teams could be traditional powers Arcadia, Bishop Amat and Nogales.
Other top teams include Edgewood, Arroyo, Glendora, Baldwin Park, San Marino and South Hills.
Here is a look at the top 10:
1--Diamond Bar (Sierra League; 5-A Division)--It was largely a junior team that won the league title and reached the second round of the 4-A playoffs last year.
So with a season of experience and quality pitchers, the outlook for the Brahmas is bullish.
"I think it is probably warranted," Coach Denis Paul said. "It's up to us to live up to it."
Diamond Bar (20-8 last season) is expected to be led on the mound by senior left-hander Jim Edmonds (6-2, 180), an All-CIF player who was 6-2 with a 2.24 earned-run average and 77 strikeouts as a junior. Two other talented left-handers are seniors Tony Darden (6-3, 190) and Paul Spere (6-4, 200).
"We feel like we have three quality left-handers," Paul said.
Darden, an all-valley performer who batted .487 last season, heads a list of strong hitters. Others are catcher Bascom Mellon (6-4, 250), third baseman Kyle Schuler (5-10, 165), Mike Hoyos (5-9, 165) at second base and Edmonds in center.
Diamond Bar has promising sophomores in right fielder Frank Delgadillo (6-3, 180) and shortstop Tito Quiles (6-2, 165).
That should give the Brahmas the best starting nine in the valley, although Paul said they do not have depth.
"That is probably the big question mark," he said. "We have a smaller team than usual, but we're versatile."
2--Arcadia (Pacific League; 5-A)--With three all-leaguers from last year's team that was 22-6 and reached the 4-A semifinals, Coach John Meiers is not concerned about producing runs.
The problem may be stopping Apache opponents from scoring.
"I would rather be telling you that our pitching is fine and our hitting is suspect," Meiers says.
Arcadia, which has won five of the last seven Pacific League titles, including the last two, has a fine starting pitcher in senior Pete Smaldino (6-3, 175), but after that Meiers is not certain. "We've got an inexperienced pitching staff," he said. "They are good but inexperienced."
Still, the Apaches have the hitting and defense to stay with most teams.
The leaders are seniors Mark Smith (6-2, 190) in center field and Dustin Pike (5-10, 170) in left field and junior Jim Aiwasian (6-2, 180) at shortstop. Three other standouts should be juniors Mike Gerken (6-3, 190) at third base and Dan Bisuano (5-10, 160) in right field and senior first baseman Aaron Holmes (6-1, 190).
"We're not enormous but they're all around 6-0 or 6-1, and from top to bottom our lineup has some very good hitters and we have good speed," Meiers said.
Which should be enough to keep the Apaches among the best in the valley again.
3--Bishop Amat (Angelus League; 5-A)--The Lancers may have only one starter from last year's team that was 22-5 and reached the 4-A quarterfinals, but pitcher J. R. Phillips is no ordinary player.
Run-of-the-mill players do not finish 13-1 and a 2.12 earned-run average and hit a school-record .523 with 8 home runs and 46 RBI.
"He had an incredible year," Coach Glenn Martinez said of Phillips, who made the All-CIF 4-A team and has been recruited by USC, Oklahoma State and Arkansas. "He's an incredible talent. If you had only one player back, he'd be the one you'd want."
"We hope he can carry us until the young kids come around," Martinez said.
Other players who should play an important role for the Lancers are shortstop Ken Kendrena (5-10, 160), catcher Tom Acuna (6-1, 220) and second baseman Steve Clark (5-10, 175). Acuna batted .343 and Clark .298 last season.
The Lancers have good younger players in junior outfielders Adam Rogers (5-11, 185) and Wade Kennedy (6-1, 170), who start for the football team, and sophomore pitcher Robert Stewart (6-3, 250).
"It's just the opposite of last year," Martinez said. "It's probably a better team to work with because they're younger and not as experienced, but last year the team was already set."
4--Nogales (Sierra League; 5-A)--Over the last four years it would be difficult to find a team in the valley with a better record than the Nobles (76-23-2 during that span).
The Nobles, who finished 19-7 and advanced to the second round of the 4-A playoffs last year, have reached the playoffs six straight years, and that does not figure to change.