Heritage will count on two aces on the mound to keep things going this year: junior righthander Paul Blackburn and senior lefty Jack Jorgensen. Brannan noted that last year, as a mere sophomore, Blackburn was the guy he wanted on the hill for critical games. Jorgensen, who will attend San Francisco State next year, similarly rises to any challenge.
Last season, Blackburn went 6-2 with an earned run average of 0.85; Jorgensen was 3-1 with five saves and 1.62 ERA.
“I think that as long as my first couple guys aren’t overtaxed,” Brannan said, “we’ll be very competitive.”
Brannan is also looking for big seasons from junior pitchers Terry Williams and Anthony Spieker, who played for the junior varsity team last season. Senior Kyle Warr, who hasn’t played baseball since his freshman year, will be a key member of the bullpen.
On the other side, BVAL Offensive Player of the Year Ryan Howell, a senior outfielder, returns. Last year, Howell batted .435 and drove in 27 runs. Aided by more playing time, senior infielder Dayton Mellor, a first-team all-league selection last season, should have a solid season. Brannan also likes senior catcher Jeff Casperson, whom he considered one of the hardest workers so far.
Last year, Deer Valley was pretty much neck-and-neck with Heritage, losing the league title by one game.
The Wolverines’ young but talented squad appears ready to challenge the Patriots again. Deer Valley returns junior shortstop Thomas Riley, a first-team all-BVAL player last year, as well as junior third baseman Joshua Manci and senior first baseman Patrick McKnight.
The Wolverines are also expecting a big year from sophomore Tyler Vistalli, a pitcher and second baseman. Manager Dennis Luquet regarded Vistalli as one of the team’s better hitters and likely the top starting pitcher.
“We’ve got a lot of returning guys who can hit,” Luquet said. “If the pitchers develop, we could be very good.”
Deer Valley will also rely on junior pitchers Ricky Delgado and Jacob Peters. Luquet said that Delgado, who throws a low-90s fastball, could get drafted out of high school.
The Wolverines could see key contributions from speedy sophomore center fielder Marcus Wise and senior right fielder Jake Walker, whom Luquet said has been the most improved player this year.
Freedom, the 2009 North Coast Section champion, will rely on a young squad in hopes of returning to the playoffs.
The Falcons’ top pitcher will be junior Joe Navilhon, who went 4-7 with a 2.28 ERA last year. Behind him is sophomore Dante Mayes, who joined Navilhon as a second-team all-BVAL selection.
Offensively, manager Gary Alexander likes his line-up, featuring Joe Olmos and Joe Starrick, who merited honorable mention on the all-league team last season. Senior catcher Alex Morrow, who hit .302 last season, will share backstop duties with junior Scott Harris, a transfer from Heritage.
The Falcons are looking for contributions from newcomers such as sophomore utility player Brian Wargo, sophomore shortstop Miguel Carvajal and senior shortstop Connor Nasty.
Antioch should field a strong offense, but it’s too early to tell how the pitching will hold up. The Panthers lost nearly their entire pitching staff to graduation.
Manager Ben Juarez hopes for continued improvement from senior first baseman Sean Smith, who hit .338 last season. Senior third baseman Billy Cloninger, junior outfielder Ronny Brohman and junior catcher Anthony Borrelli will also anchor the offense.
On the mound, the Panthers will likely count on junior pitcher Joe Chatham.
Newcomers such as Logan Crump, a sophomore infielder and pitcher, plus sophomore outfielder Larry Larson, could also see lots of playing time.
First-year manager Seth Wheelock, who was a varsity assistant for Antioch for the past six years, hopes to move Liberty up in the BVAL rankings with plenty of elbow grease.
Wheelock said he’s not focused on results right now, but getting players to come together and put in solid practices.
The Lions’ strength appears to be pitching, led by senior righty Zach Auer, who battled through injuries last season but should be back strong. Liberty is also looking for solid innings out of senior Luke Scocca. Up from the JV squad, junior Steven Zaharias and sophomore Jordan Graves could also contribute on the mound.
“He got a lot of experience last year,” Wheelock said of Scocca, “and he’s come back significantly stronger than he was last year.”
The offense will be paced by senior catcher Caleb Salas and senior outfielder Will George, who hit .348 in 20 games last season.
Pittsburg also has a new man at the helm. Bob Ott takes over as manager of a Pirates squad that finished last in the BVAL last season. But Ott feels the team should be more competitive this year. “I think we have enough good athletes at our school that we should be able to put out a competitive team every year,” he said.
Senior pitchers Alex Escajeda and Nick Valle will anchor the staff. They’ll throw to Cris Borromeo, who earned first-team all-BVAL honors last season, hitting for a .354 average. Senior outfielder Max Gonzalez will also be a factor.
Ott sees good things from senior utility player Tre Daniels as well as junior infielder Lorenzo Sandoval and junior utility player Jacob Eartzi.