It was a banner season for San Gabriel Valley high school baseball teams last year.
One valley team captured a CIF-Southern Section championship and two others reached the finals at Anaheim Stadium.
Tradition-rich San Marino took the 2-A Division title. The other finalists were South Hills in the 4-A and Diamond Bar in the 5-A.
The success of valley teams shouldn't grind to a halt this season. Perennial powers Diamond Bar and Arcadia appear to be the best teams, followed by Northview, San Marino, Temple City, Arroyo and Covina.
A look at the top teams:
Diamond Bar (Sierra League; 5-A Division)--The Brahmas have reached the 5-A final two of the past three seasons and return six starters from last year's 21-9 team that lost to Marina in the 5-A title game at Anaheim Stadium. But Coach Kent Neil says his team has managed to maintain its perspective.
"They're realistic," he says. "They know that in baseball a pitcher can get hot and you can lose in the first round. We have aspirations of making the playoffs but we don't have any aspirations of getting back to Anaheim again."
It would not be a surprise if the Brahmas reach the final again, though. Pitcher Jared Janke, who was 11-2 last season, and catcher Karl Thompson, who batted .360, are juniors.
The Brahmas also return seniors Jimmy Doyle at third base and Mike Jones in the outfield and juniors Issac Garcia at shortstop and David Mallas in the outfield.
Diamond Bar also has another veteran pitcher in Mark Johnson and a solid power hitter in first baseman Damien Hyams.
Arcadia (Pacific League; 5-A)--This is not the most experienced team that the Apaches have ever fielded, but Coach John Meiers isn't about to complain.
"It's always nice to have those senior-laden ballclubs, but you're not always going to have those situations exist," he said.
With five starters returning from last season's 18-7 squad, the Apaches have more than enough talent to win their fifth Pacific League title in six years.
Meiers said returning all-league third baseman Doug Smaldino is "as good of a player as I've ever coached." Other returning starters returning include outfielders Brad Miller and Ryan Humpert, second baseman Allan Lewis and catcher Matt MacIntyre.
The Apaches have a pro prospect in pitcher Mike Parisi, who is also a standout basketball player. Sophomore designated hitter Grady Rohn shows promise.
Northview (Valle Vista League; 4-A)--Despite having a young team last season, the Vikings went 16-6 and finished second in one of the strongest leagues in the valley.
With seven starters returning and 13 seniors on a 17-player roster, Coach Ron Letourneau is optimistic about the team's chances. "On paper we look like a pretty good team but you never win any games on paper," he said.
The Vikings should have a solid offense with the return of all-league catcher Steve Mikesell, who had nine home runs and 21 runs batted in last year, and all-league center fielder Mike Strobehn. The outfield, perhaps the strength of the team, also will include Jim Reinecker in right and Jeff Eckler in left.
Northview's pitching should be strong, led by junior Dave Hernandez, who was 9-2 with a 2.05 earned-run average last season, and Reinecker. Rick Talbott, who starred on a junior varsity team that lost only three games last year, should add depth to the team.
Arroyo (Mission Valley League; 3-A)--The Knights return three pitchers from a squad that went 16-10 and won the league title last year. James Hines, who was 8-4 as a junior, and Gerry Lopez and Saul Salinas, who were 4-3, give Coach Jim Woolery a solid nucleus.
"It's so much easier when you have your staff returning," Woolery said. "It's really a blessing because they already know their stuff. It's just a case of brushing up on a few things."
Arroyo also returns left fielder Greg Mann, second baseman Eric Chavarria and catcher Keith MacLellan. Mann, who is also a basketball standout, batted .400 in league play last season.
In addition, the Knights have three talented newcomers in freshman outfielder Javier Franco and juniors George Plascencia at shortstop and Donnie Vasquez in the outfield.
San Marino (Rio Hondo League; 2-A)--There are certainly not many schools that can claim to have reached the CIF playoffs 18 of the past 20 years and won three championships.
The Titans captured their last title last season with a 5-4 victory over El Segundo in the 2-A final at Anaheim Stadium. San Marino returns only four starters from the 23-2-1 team, but one is third-year starter Alfonso Montoya in center field.
"In my opinion, he's one of the better players around in Southern California," longtime Coach Mickey McNamee said of Montoya, who batted .416 last season and is a top college prospect.