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Prep baseball: VIBL acts as early training

Five Foothill teams near end of annual summer league baseball, which gives sneak peek into 2013

Posted: July 17, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: July 17, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Officially, the baseball season begins somewhere in late February for high school teams.

But the process of building a team starts in the summer, during which five Foothill League teams are taking part in the Valley Invitational Baseball League, with the exception of Golden Valley.

Fresh off a spring season that saw two Foothill League teams advance to at least the quarterfinals of the competitive CIF-Southern Section Division I playoffs, those same teams have been spending the past six weeks evaluating hopefuls for the 2013 varsity teams.

“We certainly want to play well over the summer, but it’s really a chance for all of us coaches to kind of see what we have,” said West Ranch head coach Casey Burrill. “The guys who were seniors last year are now gone and so it’s, ‘Who’s the guy that’s going to take his place and plug that hole?’”

West Ranch, the defending league champions, made it further than any other Foothill team in the playoffs by advancing to the Division I semifinal.

And yet, the Wildcats are struggling a bit in VIBL play with a 5-7 record, which is fourth best of the Foothill participants.

On the bright side, West Ranch has seen the emergence of two junior arms in Jake Bird and Davis LeBarron to complement returning starter Cody Bennett.

All three players were on varsity last year, but Bird and LeBarron seldom saw action.

Former JV catcher Jake Spurlin has worked well behind the plate throughout the summer, and fellow varsity newcomer Kyle McGraw has worked well at third base.

The only other Foothill team to make it as far as the quarterfinals was Saugus, which finished second in league.

“Last year’s group kind of set the foundation and kind of set the blue print on how its done,” said Saugus head coach John Maggiora. “The returning guys know it already.”

So far, the Centurions are the best of the Foothill bunch in VIBL with an 8-5-1 record, which puts them sixth of 26 teams coming from around the Antelope Valley, San Fernando Valley and areas in Ventura County in addition to the SCV.

Though Saugus will have to replace its top two pitchers from last year — graduates Justin Donatella and Chad Bennett — the team is already filling in the gaps with a mix of youth and experience.

Returning senior Chris Danielson is the best looking pitching prospect so far, while incoming freshman Caden Salkeld has impressed with an ERA in the mid-2.0 range this summer, Maggiora said.

A promising talent coming from the JV team is Timmy Kahovec, who is hitting near .600 for the summer.

Valencia is right behind Saugus in VIBL play at 6-4 so far, though the Vikings have taken a different approach this summer.

In addition to VIBL, Valencia has traveled to tournaments in Fresno and Anaheim, where it’s faced Orange County powers like Junipero Serra and Dana Hills.

But against more local competition, Vikings head coach Jared Snyder is happy with what he sees.

“We’re stacking up pretty good. ... We’re pretty excited about that especially because a couple of games we lost are because of our mistakes, so we know those are fixable,” Snyder said.

Valencia has promising hitters Anthony Lepre and Devon Davis coming back as sophomores this season, and will look to add junior Hunter Holland and senior Shane Lindemann to the lineup.

Both varsity newcomers have put together impressive summers, as has right-handed pitcher Holden Mehr.

Mehr will be a sophomore, and Snyder said he has potential to be a standout all-around player given his abilities to pitch and play multiple positions in the field.

Another team full of young talent is Hart, which likely comes into 2012-13 with more returning starters than any other Foothill team this coming season.

The Indians are the third best league team in the VIBL standings.

Top hitters like Cody Miller, Baggio Saldivar and Luke Persico have helped the Indians to an 11-7 record in VIBL, which has been a hitting showcase for Hart.

Hyped shortstop Nick Valaika — who has two brothers playing professional baseball and another playing for UCLA — has played sparingly during the summer while he continues to recover from a hamstring injury suffered late last season.

“We’ve have a large group of guys who were returning, so what we were really looking for (this summer) were some other pieces who would take charge in other postilions,” said Hart head coach Jim Ozella.

Thus far, Hart has gotten that from power-hitting sophomore Colby Kaneshiro and the versatile right-handed pitching sophomore Jack Ralston.

Ozella said 12 of 14 hitters are batting over .300 during summer competition.

At 3-7, Canyon is fifth among Foothill teams in VIBL thus far.

Though the Cowboys lost Jacob King, Kevin Morrice and Jacob Emry to graduation, they’ll have the benefit of strong returning starting pitcher Chris Serrano and scrappy hitter Cole Mears.

The VIBL playoff bracket will be released Thursday night and playoffs will begin on Saturday.



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