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Baseball Preview: La Cañada, Flintridge Prep baseball hope to maintain sudden success in 2014

After dramatic turnaround seasons in 2013, Rebels, Spartans hope for similar seasons under second-year skippers.

March 08, 2014|By Grant Gordon, grant.gordon@latimes.com
  • La Cañada pitcher Justin Lewis throws a pitch during a game at Stengel Field on Tuesday, March 4, 2014.
La Cañada pitcher Justin Lewis throws a pitch… (Roger Wilson / Staff…)

Success was as sudden as it was historic for the Flintridge Prep baseball team in 2013.

In just his first season as the Rebels’ coach, Guillermo Gonzalez navigated Flintridge Prep all the way to the CIF Southern Section Division VI semifinals.

Just a season removed from failing to make the postseason, the Rebels claimed a share of the Prep League title for the first time since 1997, won a playoff game for the first time since 1999 and advanced to the semifinals for the first time since 1960.

Success and a Rio Hondo League title came just as suddenly for La Cañada High under its first-year skipper Alex Valadez. What followed was a run to the CIF Division IV second round for the first time since 2005 after the program’s first postseason win since 2009.

And now, much like Flintridge Prep, La Cañada will attempt a curtain call despite losing some valuable starters.

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“I do expect to compete [for a Rio Hondo League title],” said Valadez, who led the Spartans to an outright league title in his first season a year after the team failed to qualify for the playoffs. “I think our players expect to compete.”

Valadez, who lost the likes of starting pitcher Alex Bang and closer Clayton Hermann to graduation, still believes pitching will be the strong suit for his Spartans.

“Pitching’s gonna be the strength of our team for sure,” said Valadez, who added he is still looking to fill Hermann’s closer spot.

Justin Lewis will be the ace of the staff and the senior will be an integral part to Spartans success in general, as he’ll also hit third in the lineup. Senior George Steckbeck is also back and is currently slotted as the No. 2 starter with junior Sam Gellar stepping up and into the rotation.

Another returner poised for a big season to follow a stellar junior year is Johnny Selsor, who will bat clean-up and play catcher and utility. Pitcher/outfielder Travis Clark, middle infielder Jacob Yonan and third baseman Jonah Bodmer are also expected to play crucial roles. All three are seniors, as eight of Valadez’ 19 players on the roster are playing their final seasons for the Spartans.

As for how the Rio Hondo League breaks down, Valadez believes Monrovia will be formidable as usual and San Marino will be strong, particularly with ace Jeff Bain on the mound. But Valadez believes his team has the potential to repeat.

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