Wide-Open Race for 2019 Orange Empire Conference Baseball Title

Wide-Open Race for 2019 Orange Empire Conference Baseball Title

Just how crazy-good is the Orange Empire Conference for baseball in 2019? Well, for starters, throughout all of Southern California community college baseball, there are nine teams that have started the season with 10 or more victories … SEVEN reside in the Orange Empire Conference.

So what does that mean for the eight teams who will battle it out for the top spot in arguably the best baseball conference in the state? Each game will be a dogfight with RPI and state rankings at stake at all times.

In order of nonconference standings, here is a team-by-team breakdown of the eight OEC teams as they begin conference play this week.

CYPRESS (15-2) – A perennial powerhouse year in and year out, the Chargers have come out of the gates like gangbusters in 2019. Through 17 games, Cypress has outscored its opponents 154-60 and notched a 12-game win streak before falling to El Camino, 4-3, on Feb. 26.

The sophomore trio of Nathan Cozza (.486 batting average, 18 hits, 13 runs, 17 RBI), Jesse Lopez (.404, 19 hits, 16 runs, 14 RBI) and Isaiah Stewart (.400, 22 hits, 19 runs, 10 RBI) have helped the Chargers to the highest team batting average in the state at .326.

On the mound, Cypress has plenty of top-tier arms to choose from, including starters Adrian Chaidez (4-0, 3.38 ERA, 40 strikeouts in 24 innings), Eric Chavarria (3-1, 3.75 ERA, 18 strikeouts in 24 innings) and Austin Spinney (2-0, 2.60 ERA, 23 strikeouts in 17 1/3 innings). Look for relievers Colton Bulger (1-0, one save, 1.38 ERA, 19 strikeouts in 13 innings) and Christian Lopez (0.73 ERA, 18 strikeouts over 12 1/3 innings) to lock down late leads as the season progresses. The Chargers' staff is averaging 10.47 strikeouts per nine innings and has a solid 2.53 team ERA.

IRVINE VALLEY (14-2-1) – It's been an eye-opening start to the 2019 season for the Lasers, the only team in the Orange Empire Conference NOT in the top-20 preseason rankings. After a loss in the second game of the season, IVC went on an 11-game unbeaten streak (10-0-1), highlighted by a 2-1, 12-inning win over regional powerhouse Palomar College.

The Lasers' combo of sophomore Trent Whitaker (.444, 32 hits, 15 runs, 16 RBI) and Kyle Dobson (.425, 31 hits, nine runs, 24 RBI) are Nos. 1-2 in the state in hits, leading a team that enters conference play with an impressive .314 team batting average. Leadoff hitter Ben McConnell has been the beneficiary of Whitaker's and Dobson's success, scoring 23 runs in 16 games (seventh-best in the state) to go along with a .338 batting average.

Sophomore Justin Dunham leads a sturdy IVC pitching staff with a 3-0 record with two complete games and a 1.00 ERA, striking out 24 over 27 innings. Freshman Brennen Farber leads the staff in work, allowing only six earned runs over 28 2/3 innings (1.88 ERA), while sophomore Noah Bradford has two saves and a 2-1 record with a 2.70 ERA in a team-best eight appearances in relief.

ORANGE COAST (13-3-1) – The Pirates, champions of the OEC for the past two seasons and third-place finisher in the state a year ago, has reloaded with a nice blend of first-year players and a few four-year bouncebacks to go along with those back from last year's 34-win team. After going 11-1-1 over their first 13 games (all at home), Coast finally took to the road and stumbled a bit with a pair of losses to Canyons and Oxnard before sweeping a doubleheader at Ventura.

The Pirates are DEEP in all positions, giving head coach John Altobelli the ability to play several players throughout the nonconference portion of the season. Sophomore transfer Tyler Lasch has been the big stick for the Pirates with a .419 average, 18 hits (11 extra-base hits), 15 runs, three home runs and 10 RBI. Close behind has been freshman infielder Ryan O'Halloran with 17 hits to go along with a team-best .436 average and a team-best 11 RBI (tied with David Morgan).

The sophomore starting corps of Miles Sandum (2-0, 0.00 ERA), Ben Davis (3-1, 1.33 ERA, 23 strikeouts in 27 innings) and Cole Van Den Helder (3-1, 1.96 ERA) have been enhanced with the addition of freshman Brandon Argomaniz (3-1, 3.00 ERA, 21 strikeouts in 21 innings), while relievers Kevin Ishimaru (0-0, two saves, 2.65 ERA, 22 strikeouts in 17 innings) and Davis Delorefice (one save. 0.00 ERA in six appearances) have shut-down capabilities to anchor the Pirate bullpen.

RIVERSIDE (13-4) – Winners of six straight heading into OEC play, the Tigers are playing their best baseball at the right time. RCC has a plethora of solid wins, including a pair of Mt. San Antonio, a pair of Palomar and a hard-fought 5-4 win over Ventura on Feb. 27.

Sophomore outfielder Junior Coleman leads the Tigers' offense with 23 hits to go along with 19 runs, 11 stolen bases and a .311 average. Former OCC product Ulises Caballero is tied with teammate Mathew Ivancich with 15 RBI, while the duo has combined for 36 hits and 22 runs in the heart of the RCC batting order, while freshman catcher Angel Mendoza leads the Tigers with a .350 batting average with 14 hits, and eight runs.

Sophomores Alexander Salazar and Garrett Irvin anchor the RCC starting staff. Salazar is 1-1 with a microscopic 0.90 ERA, allowing just three earned runs over 30 innings with 38 strikeouts, while Irvine is 3-1 with a 1.55 ERA and 35 strikeouts over 29 innings. Freshman Ethan Sachs has two wins, two saves AND a complete game to go along with a 1.33 ERA and 18 strikeouts over 20 1/3 innings. Also keep an eye on freshman Lawrence Castaneda, who is 2-0 with a save and a 2.54 ERA with 25 strikeouts over a span of 28 1/3 innings.

GOLDEN WEST (11-4) – After starting the season 3-4, the Rustlers are the OEC's hottest team entering conference play with an impressive eight-game win streak. Included in those wins were a three-game sweep at Bakersfield, a pair of wins against Glendale and an 11-7 win against College of the Canyons.

In spite of a team batting average of only .240, don't take the Rustler bats for granted. Look for sophomore Nelson Padilla to lead the way, as he has thus far with a .295 average, 18 hits, nine runs and eight RBI. Freshman Justin Simpson is close behind with a .294 average, 15 hits, 12 runs and six RBI, while slugger Austin Schell is tied for the team lead with 11 RBI, while his 14 runs scored tops the club.

The GWC sophomore-heavy pitching staff is anchored around the starting trio of Wyatt Adams (3-1, 2.83 ERA, 19 strikeouts in 28 2/3 innings), Micah Wallette (3-2, 3.52 ERA, 26 strikeouts in 30 2/3 innings) and Eric Romo (2-0, two saves, 4.98 ERA). Reliever Josh Ibarra (2-1, two saves, 2.91 ERA) leads the Rustlers with 11.22 strikeouts per nine innings.

SADDLEBACK (10-5) – After some early-season schedule changes and cancelations due to rain, the Gauchos found their groove at home, posting a 7-2 record during their most recent nine-game homestand.

Sophomores Riley Kasper (.365, 23 hits, 18 runs, 11 RBI), Demitri Colacchio (.364, 20 hits, 10 runs, 11 RBI) and Zack Bowman (.383, 18 hits, eight runs, 15 RBI) lead a deep and talented Gaucho starting lineup that enters OEC play with a .299 team batting average. Cleanup hitter Reed Beverly (.340, 16 hits, 13 runs, two HR, 10 RBI) also leads the team with seven stolen bases.

The Gaucho pitching staff is led by sophomore starter Zak Herbers, who is 3-0 with a 1.57 ERA, allowing just four earned runs with 29 strikeouts over 23 innings. Close behind is fellow starter Nick Hernandez (0-1, 2.08 ERA, 25 strikeouts, 21 2/3 innings), while closer Scott Armstrong is 1-0 with three saves and a 1.69 ERA, striking out nine over 10 2/3 innings.

SANTA ANA (10-5) – The Dons have pieced together a solid nonconference campaign with a nice blend of scoring a bunch of runs to go along with moments of solid pitching. Four of SAC's wins have highlighted games with nine or more runs by the Dons and in two other wins, SAC's pitching staff has thrown shutouts.

Freshman James Williams has been red-hot to start the 2019 season, batting .414 with 24 hits, 17 runs and 10 RBI, while sophomore slugger Grant Askins has a team-best 13 RBI to go along with 15 hits, 11 of them include eight doubles and three home runs.

Sophomore starter Josh Haley is 3-0 in four starts with a 2.38 ERA, striking out 23 over 22 2/3 innings. The SAC relief trio of Devan Graves, Jack Owens and Jacob Ayala has allowed just one earned run over 27 1/3 innings, while freshman Joel Casillas has struck out 24 over 18 1/3 innings in nine appearances.

FULLERTON (5-9) – With longtime head coach Nick Fuscardo stepping down following this season, the Hornets want to make this a special OEC run for their beloved skipper. After a rough start to the 2019 season, the Hornets put things together on Feb. 28 with a solid 6-3 win against a Cerro Coso team that entered that game with a 12-3 record.

Five FC players have 14-15 hits each, giving the Hornets a solid starting lineup that includes sophomore Ryan Stephens (.378, 14 hits, nine runs, 10 RBI), Diego Black (.341, 14 hits, nine runs, seven RBI), Tony Accordino (.326, 15 hits, 10 runs, six RBI), P.J. Gordon (.319, 15 hits, seven runs, six RBI) and Monte Montenegro (.259, 15 hits, 14 runs, seven runs).

In spite of a 4.97 team ERA, the Hornet pitching staff has some arms to pay strict attention to, including sophomore Patrick Showalter (3-1, 2.39 ERA, 21 strikeouts in 26 1/3 innings) and Taed Heydinger (2-2, 3.94 ERA, 32 strikeouts in 29 2/3 innings).