After a dominating non-conference portion of the schedule the members of the Orange Empire Conference turn their attention on themselves as the second portion of the 2018 baseball season kicked off on Tuesday with a full slate of action.
In this eight-team conference, the OEC combined for a non-conference record of 84-43, a winning percentage of .661. Only the nine-team Big-8 Conference's 87 nonconference wins can come close to the numbers put up by the Orange Empire Conference.
In order of the current standings, here is a capsule of each team, heading into OEC play …
SADDLEBACK (14-2, Ranked No. 1 in Southern California) – Only a one-run loss to Santa Barbara and an extra-inning setback to Cuesta has kept the Gauchos from running the table so far in 2018. Winners of eight straight heading into OEC play. Armed with a pitching staff with the third-best ERA in all of California, the Gauchos have held the opposition to just 35 earned runs in 16 games (2.19 ERA) and are led by sophomore starter Tanner Brubaker, who has been lights out in his five starts. In 35 innings of work, Brubaker has allowed just one earned run on 20 hits with 32 strikeouts, good enough for a microscopic 0.26 ERA. Sophomore starter Bradley Spooner is 3-0 with a 2.08 ERA with 28 strikeouts over 26 innings and the sophomore duo of Connor Sealey (three saves, 0.82 ERA) and Alex Kent (two saves, 1.50 ERA) have combined for 24 strikeouts over 23 innings.
At the plate, the Gauchos can pose problems as well, thanks to a .302 team batting average. Saddleback is led by sophomore catcher Brett Auerbach, who is hitting .490 with 25 hits, 24 runs, nine doubles, 15 stolen bases and 17 RBI. Freshman Connor Glenn is close behind with a .412 average and a team-best three home runs, while sophomore Brett O'Toole has a team-best 21 RBI to go with his .340 average.
CYPRESS (13-3 overall, No. 2 in Southern California) – Another year, another impressive baseball club coming out of Cypress College, as the Chargers enter OEC play winners of 10 in a row. Owners of the second-best team batting average in the state (.325), the Chargers come in loaded up and down their batting order. Sophomore catcher Dominic Campeau leads this impressive lineup with a .446 batting average, including 33 hits, 23 runs and 36 RBI … in just 16 games! Freshman outfielder Jesse Lopez is hitting .387 with 24 hits, helping the Chargers outscore their opponents, 147-56, through nonconference play.
Those bats have helped a Cypress pitching staff that doesn't need a whole lot of help. With a 3.35 team ERA this staff is averaging 10.18 strikeouts per nine innings and is led by starters Connor McCollum (2-0, 1.33 ERA) Jake Mahood (2-1, 2.70 ERA) and Riley Ohl (6-0, 4.66 ERA). That trio has struck out 92 batters over a combined 60 1/3 innings.
RIVERSIDE (13-4, No. 3 in Southern California) – After a 29-win campaign in 2017, the Riverside City College Tigers appear to be heading in the same direction in 2018, thanks to 13 wins over their last 15 contests following an 0-2 start. In spite of a sluggish start at the plate (.255 team average), the Tigers are getting it done on the mound with a team ERA of 3.14. Led by starter Daniel Martinez (4-1, 2.05 ERA, 28 strikeouts in 30 2/3 innings) and lefty closer Graham Kuck (1-0, three saves, 2.08 ERA, 17 Ks in 13 IP), the Tigers already have six pitchers with 10-or-more innings of work.
Freshman outfielder Joseph Hodapp anchors the Tigers' lineup with a .404 average, including 19 hits, 11 runs and 12 RBI. Freshman Kylan Kanoho is close behind with a .350 average with 14 hits and six stolen bases, while sophomore Daniel Martinez (.302 average) is tied for the team lead with seven extra-base hits.
SANTA ANA (10-6) – In spite of an absence in the most recent Southern California Regional polls, nobody will be taking the Dons lightly in the OEC, thanks to years of outstanding baseball tradition. With plenty of sophomore veterans up and down the lineup, the Dons (.306 team average) are led by their depth at the plate. Freshman Raymond Villanueva has started strong with a .391 average, including 25 hits and 17 RBI, while sophomore Juan Gonzalez is one off of Villanueva's lead for his with 24 to go along with a .375 average. Sophomore outfielder Bryan Leef has been the slugger in the Dons' lineup with 21 hits, 12 extra-base hits, five home runs, 17 RBI and a .350 batting average.
Reliever Jay Edwards has made the most of his nine appearances (one start), posting a 6-0 record with a 1.56 ERA, allowing three earned runs over 17 1/3 innings with 19 strikeouts. Fellow reliever Cole Hoskins has been just as dominant with two saves and a 1.77 ERA, allowing four earned runs over 20 1/3 innings with 18 strikeouts. Lefty starter Zachary Ryan has paced the starters with a 1-0 record and a 0.63 ERA, striking out 19 over 14 1/3 innings.
GOLDEN WEST (9-6, No. 17 in Southern California) – After a sluggish start, the Rustlers ripped off wins in eight of their next 10 contests before dropping 2-of-3 to close out their nonconference portion of the schedule. The offensive catalyst for the Rustlers through their first 16 games has been sophomore outfielder Jeremiah Vison, who is batting .419 with 26 hits, 10 RBI and 11 stolen bases in 13 attempts. Fellow sophomore Logan Mahaffy is batting .375 with 15 hits, while freshman Ezele Wicks has 21 hits and 11 runs scored to go along with his .333 average.
On the mound, sophomore Troy Bethel has been the Rustlers' innings-eater, posting a 2-1 record with a 3.67 ERA and 23 strikeouts over a team-best 27 innings. A trio of multi-purpose throwers – Luke Mattson, Eric Romo and Kamalu Simeona -- have combined for five wins, six saves and just eight earned runs allowed over 42 innings.
IRVINE VALLEY (10-7, No. 20 in Southern California) – Another team not to take lightly at any time during the season, the Lasers have posted a 10-4 record in nonconference play against everyone on their schedule NOT named Allan Hancock College (0-3 vs. the Bulldogs). IVC has been hitting the ball well in nonconference play, as its .293 team average would illustrate. Freshman Ben McConnell has led the way with a .417 average, including a team-best 30 hits, 24 runs, seven doubles, three triples and 16 RBI. Sophomore Zack Stack has ripped 23 hits, scored 11 runs, and notched a team-best 19 RBI to go along with a .377 average.
On the mound, freshman Nick Janowicz has been strong in his five starts (29 innings), going 3-1 with a 1.55 ERA, striking out 32 along the way. Reliever Noah Bradford has been just as effective, posting a 2-1 record with a save and a 1.96 ERA over nine appearances. This young, but talented staff has to learn on the fly, with all but 6 2/3 innings coming from first-year hurlers.
ORANGE COAST (8-7, No. 17 in Southern California) – With a shorthanded pitching staff to the start the season, it's been a rough going for the defending OEC champion-Pirates through their first 15 games. A pair of impressive wins against College of the Canyons (7-3 and 6-5) will give Coast some momentum heading into the opening week of OEC play. Freshman infielder Joey Fregosi has been a steady force for the Coast offense, batting .395 with 15 hits and 10 runs scored, while sophomore Chris Ceballos is close behind with a .361 average with 13 hits and 10 runs. Leadoff hitter Syklar Limonchi has a team-best 13 runs and six stolen bases to go along with his .320 average.
Sophomore Michael Giacone has been the steady force on a staff looking to get healthy at the right time. Giacone is 1-1 with a 2.08 ERA and 21 strikeouts over 17 1/3 innings of work, while infielder/closer Josh Berman is 1-0 with a save and a 1.86 ERA in seven appearances with 10 strikeouts over 9 2/3 innings.
FULLERTON (7-8) – Nick Fuscardo's Hornets have had an up-and-down start to the 2018 season, exchanging wins and losses over their past seven contests. Freshman pitching standout Connor Tousignant has been a one-man wrecking crew for the Hornets' pitching staff, allowing just two earned runs with a team-best 22 strikeouts over 26 2/3 innings (0.67 ERA). Sophomore starters Sean Henry (2-1, 3.44 ERA), Ricky Rivera (1-1, 4.15 ERA) and Garrett Molnar (2-2, 4.50 ERA give the Hornets sophomore leadership up front and all three can eat up innings, making life easier for the FC bullpen.
Fullerton has a pair of hitters over the .400 mark in Thomas Delgadillo (.441, 15 hits, nine runs, four stolen bases) and Monte Montenegro (.415, 17 hits, nine runs, four doubles, 10 RBI). Sophomore Ryan Aguirre leads the team with 18 hits and 14 RBI to go along with a solid average.