Top newcomers include juniors Matt Rush (C/OF), Tucker Woods (LHP) and Matt Anderson (OF/RHP). 2. La Serna The Lancers were 14-1 in winning the Del Rio League championship in coach Wayne Manzo’s first season a year ago. They may be hard-pressed to match that accomplishment this year, but nonetheless, should compete favorably in the league’s title chase. “We need to do the basic stuff well early,” Manzo said. “Good pitching, work on our hitting, play good defense. We’ll be young in some positions.” Back is one of the league’s best pitchers, senior left-hander Matt Burke, who was 6-1 last season. Other key returners include Chris O’Brien (Sr., 3B/OF), Sal Olivas (Sr., 2B), Sergio Arambula (Sr., SS) and Victor Soto (Jr., RF). Newcomers expected to contribute early include David Longstaff (1B/DH) and Brandon Montoya (C/OF). 3. Santa Fe In recent seasons, the Chiefs have battled injuries and other problems that have kept them from achieving their potential. But this could be the year. “For the first time in three years, we don’t have any injuries, no eligibility problems going into the season,” said coach Steve Hendry, who is beginning his 16th season. “We should hit pretty well, and our defense is solid. Our pitching needs to prove themselves, but it’s probably the deepest staff I’ve ever had.” Heading the mound corps is Angel Molina (Sr., RHP/OF). Other key returners include Derek Remijo (Sr., C), Eddie Chavez (Sr., 1B), Freddie Gloria (Sr., SS), Josh Dunigan (Sr., OF) and Eddie Barrios (Sr., 2B/RHP). Among the top newcomers are Francisco Fuentes (Soph., RHP/OF), Rudy Casillas (Jr., 2B/SS), Richard Najera (Jr., OF) and Anthony Salas (Sr., 3B). 4. Montebello Pitching has been sharp and the returnning players have a lot of plate appearances under their belts, which is reason for coach Ralph Gutierrez to be optimistic. Five of the six returning players from last season’s 14-11-1 team, which finished third in the Almont League, are Juan Martinez (Sr., RHP), who had a 1.19 ERA and batted .306; William Loza (Sr., C/3B), who had 32 RBIs and a .761 slugging percentage; Ariel Acedo (Sr., CF), who hit .405; and Chris Galaviz (Sr., SS), who batted .382. Leading newcomers include Chris Franco (Jr., 2B/P), and Ivan Anaya (Jr., 1B). “We may need some time for our hitting to come around,” Gutierrez said, “and Martinez is the only returning pitcher with varsity experience. But we have some good numbers (statistics) returning, so hopefully we can build on those.” 5. California The Condors have six starters among eight returning lettermen from last season’s team, which was 12-13 overall and 8-7 in the Del Rio League. Senior James McCrory, who led the team in hitting (.388) last season, moves from the outfield to catcher. Senior outfielder James Hernandez batted .382 in earning all-league honors, and senior Robert Rodriguez is a three-year starter who moves from second base to shortstop this season. Junior Tyler Leibert (5-2, 2.00 ERA) and senior Taylor Martin, are left-handed pitchers who, along with senior submariner Ismael Haro, head up what coach Tony Nieto calls “the deepest pitching staff” he’s had at the school. Newcomers expected to contribute early include Craig Taylor (Sr., RHP/OF), Enrique Murrillo (Jr., 3B) and Gilbert Murrillo (Jr., OF/RHP). Here’s a look at the other area teams: El Rancho Frank Llanes, longtime Dons basketball coach, moves over to take charge of the baseball program and pretty much will be dealing with a rebuilding year. El Rancho returns one starter (Eric Garcia (Sr., CF) and one other letterman, Chris Villalobos (Jr., RHP/3B). “We have tremendous speed, and we play catch really well,” LLanes said, citing perhaps the often most overlooked aspect of the game. Among the top newcomers are Julian Frescas (Sr., C), Jonathan Garcia (Sr., RHP), Aaron Flores (Jr., 1B), Ray Madrid (Jr., OF) and Mike Manriquez (Jr., Util.) La Habra Coach Mate Borgono says pitching will be the Highlanders’ strength. La Habra has a pitcher who threw “every single inning from last year’s playoffs returning, and we reached the quarterfinals,” he said. Experience is a different story. The Highlanders return three starters among six lettermen from last season’s 17-9 team. Starters back are Richard Martin (Sr., RHP/OF), Chris Morales (Jr., C) and Ryan Salinas (Sr., Cf). The other returners are Ryan Tornell (Jr., RHP/OF), Kenny Heil (Jr., RHP/1B) and Bryan Aanderud (Jr., SS). Top newcomers include sophomores Jordan Sachs (RHP, OF/Util.), Luke Esquerra (2B) Zach Esquerra (C) and Edgar Bran (Jr., 3B). Pioneer Seven returning starters from a team that coach Paul Magallanes says “turned the corner in terms of improvement and being able to compete” are reasons for optimism this season. Key returners include Aaron Santa Cruz (Sr., CF), Tony Hernandez (Jr., C), R.J. Saldana (Sr., RHP/3B), Diego Salceda (Sr., RF), Ronnie Palacios (Soph., SS/RHP). Omar Laines (Sr., 1B) and Steven Real (Jr., 2B/RHP). Palacios started as a freshman. Newcomers counted on for early contributions include Javier Cazares (Jr., Inf.), Carlos Ramos (Soph., 2B/INF) and Randy Palacios (Jr., OF). Schurr The good news is the Spartans have better team speed than last season. The bad news is that they graduated all their pitching. In between, there are a number of questions marks for coach Ken Marrero. Schurr returns only two lettermen from last year’s 9-10 team. That means leadership will be needed from Julian De La Hay (Sr., SS), who batted .360 and stole a school-record 22 bases, and Hector Solarzano (Sr., DH), who hopefully will furnish some power at the plate. Key newcomers include Rudy Jordan (Jr., CF), a football standout for the CIF-SS champions, who has dropped track this spring in favor of baseball; Dennis Rangel (Sr., LHP/OF), Michael Olivarez (Jr., 3B), Jerry Perez (Soph., RHP) and freshman switch-hitter Christian Madrid. St. Paul Three returning lettermen, of which two are starters, sort of says it all for the Swordsmen. “We’re going to be young and we need to learn real quick,” coach Casey Morales said. The returning starters are quality – Michael Guy (Sr., 1B) and Ryan Ball (Soph., CF), as is returnee Mitch Sortillion (Sr., OF). Newcomers expected to contribute include Andrew Espinosa (Sr., RHP/SS), Bobby Santoyo (Jr., RHP/OF), Bob Castaneda (Sr., 2B), Chris Carrillo (Soph., C), Marcus Aldecoa (Soph., OF) and freshman shortstop Andrew Chico. Whittier First-year coach Brent Lavoie, who won an Olympic League championship last year at Cerritos Valley Christian, will have his hands full with just three returning starters. “We’ll need to play a little bit of defense, and we’ll need to get timely hits,” Lavoie said. Isaac Garcia (Sr., CF) leads the group of returners that include Jovany Avila (Jr., C), Erik Ruvalcaba (Soph., SS), Matt Avila (Jr., LHP/1B), David Jimenez (Sr., OF) and Joey Miller (Sr., LF). Top newcomers include Anthony Diaz (Jr., RF) and Darrin Macias (Soph., RHP). Whittier Christian Like several other area programs, the Heralds will be rebuilding this season. First-year coach Arlie Kearney has just two returning starters from last season’s Alpha League championship team, Jeremy Cameron (Sr., Util.) and Aaron Oberst (Sr., RHP/CF). Also returning are Hugh Hughes (Sr., SS) and Mark Edwards (Soph., C).. [email protected] (562) 698-0955, Ext. 3046 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! Here’s a look at the area’s preseason Top 5 entering Friday’s season openers: 1. La Mirada “We have the talent to be successful,” said coach Kim Brooks, who is starting his 12th season at the helm. “We just need to realize, when we take the field, the pressure is on us. We’re supposed to be good, so now we have to go out and play the way we know we can.” It won’t take long for the Matadores to find out where they stand. A rigorous early schedule includes games in the Loara and Redondo tournaments before opening defense of their league title with two games against Cerritos. Left-handed pitcher Tony Peraza, who led the area in earned run average last year, also returns, along with Brandon Pesante, who will move from second base to shortstop. Dovel and first baseman Stephen Kaupang, who also will see time on the mound, have committed to the University of San Diego. Jake Johnson, who will split time at catcher and third base, has committed to Fresno State and Taylor Siemens, the standout basketball player and left-handed pitcher, has committed to Cal Baptist. The Matadores have won eight consecutive Suburban League championships and will be the odds-on favorite to make it nine this season. With 13 returning lettermen, including six starters returning from last season’s 24-7 team, La Mirada High School figures to lead area teams into the 2007 baseball season. The Matadores have four players who have committed to four-year college programs and can boast of perhaps the area’s deepest pitching staff, led by senior left-hander Jason Dovel, a four-year varsity starter.