In a conference that has won 16 of the past 25 state baseball championships, this year's lineup of teams throughout the Orange Empire Conference might be as deep and as talented as ever.
With a combined record of 94-34 against nonconference competition this year, the talent is loaded up and down this conference.
The reputation of the conference is widely known and the talents throughout the conference have been recognized by the regional rankings, where ALL EIGHT TEAMS are in the top-20, including top-ranked Saddleback, No. 2 Orange Coast, No. 3 Santa Ana and No. 4 Cypress.
In the order of the current nonconference standings, here is a breakdown of each team as they begin their 24-game conference stretch.
Southern California Ranking – No. 3
The Dons have dominated their nonconference play thus far with a 14-2 record. Winners of five straight heading into OEC play, Santa Ana has been carried by the arms of its pitching staff. Starters Nigel Ward (4-1, 1.41 ERA, 32 strikeouts in 32 innings) and Guillermo Sanchez (1-0, 1.42 ERA, 28 strikeouts in 31 2/3 innings) have been the workhorses of the staff. But in the back end, the Dons have been dominant, thanks to the 1-2 punch of freshmen Gabe Armstrong (2-0, 1 save, 0.55 ERA, 21 strikeouts in 16 1/3 IP) and Austin Weddle (2-0, 1 save, 1.38 ERA, 16 strikeouts, 13 IP).
Three Dons' players have already eclipsed the 20-hit mark, including freshman Erick Leef (.345, 20 hits, 15 runs, six RBI), sophomore Justin Mellano (.323, 21 hits, 11 runs, 12 RBI) and sophomore Derek Reilly (.323, 21 hits, 15 runs, seven doubles, 12 RBI).
Southern California Ranking – No. 2
The Pirates, winners of two of the past three state championships have returned to "powerhouse" status after an inconsistent 2016 season. The key to success offensively for the Pirates has been power, power and more power. Coast enters OEC play with 19 home runs (second in the state) and a .475 slugging percentage (fifth in the state). The Pirates' 57 extra-base hits top the OEC by a comfortable margin (Fullerton is second with 50).
Sophomore shortstop Travis Moniot leads the Pirates with a .412 batting average with 21 hits, 18 runs, three home runs and 13 RBI, while slugger Eric Wagaman leads the OEC with six home runs and 20 RBI to go along with a .320 batting average.
On the mound, sophomore Kyle Robeniol averages nearly 12 strikeouts per nine innings while going 3-0 with a save and a 2.39 ERA, striking out 35 batters over his 26 1/3 innings of work. Freshman Cameron
Jabara is 4-1 with a 3.98 ERA, while relievers Blair Lewis, Ryan Randel and John Balliet have a combined three saves, two wins, five earned runs allowed and 20 strikeouts over 26 1/3 innings of work.
Southern California Ranking – No. 4
There are plenty of arms to choose from for the Chargers, who have three dominant starters and plenty of arms in the bullpen to shut down any opponent. Sophomore Andrew Quezada has been lights-out for Cypress, posting a 4-0 record and a microscopic 0.28 ERA in five starts, allowing just one earned run over 32 innings with just three walks and 31 strikeouts. Joining Quezada is fellow sophomore Henry Martinez, who is 2-1 with a 0.78 ERA with just two earned runs allowed in 23 innings. The Charger threesome of Eddie Fournier, Spencer Hereford and Kenneth Pettibone has combined for ZERO earned runs allowed over 23 innings with 24 strikeouts.
Offensively, Cypress is led by a freshmen trio of Chase Sebby (.406, 13 hits, five runs, four RBI), Matt Schmidt (.387, 13 hits, five extra-base hits, eight RBI) and Pierson Loska (.381, 16 hits, team-best 12 RBI.
Southern California Ranking – No. 1
The top-ranked Gauchos opened the season with a perfect 10-0 record, but have gone just 2-4 over their past six games.
Keep an eye on sophomore Tyler Clark, who leads the Gauchos with a .436 batting average with 17 hits, 11 runs, three triples and eight RBI. Freshmen Brett Auerbach and Spencer Heinsius each have a .339 batting average with 19 hits.
On the mound, freshman starter Daniel Harris has been impressive at the community college level, going 3-1 with a 0.40 ERA, allowing just one earned run and 18 strikeouts over 22 1/3 innings. Reliever Michael Carr has done his job well and is 3-0 with a 0.93 ERA, while closer Bradley Spooner has three saves and a win in 13 innings with 13 strikeouts.
Southern California Ranking – No. 12
The team nobody likes to play in the OEC, the pesky Lasers have been swinging the bat well during the early portion of the season. They are second among all OEC teams with 171 hits, they are tied for the conference lead in doubles (35), they are second in batting average (.296) and second in on-base percentage (.384).
Sophomore Tyler Odekirk has been dominant in nonconference play thus far with an OEC-best .457 batting average (sixth-best in the state) with and OEC-best 32 hits (second-best in the state), OEC-best 24 runs and 14 RBI (4th-best in the OEC). Freshman Ryan Gaynor leads the Lasers with 16 RBI to go along with a .338 average, 22 hits and nine runs, while sophomore Cole Joy is second on the team with a .373 batting average, 19 hits, 12 runs and nine RBI.
Sophomore Tyler Venturelli has been the workhorse of the IVC pitching staff, going 4-0 with a save and a 0.84 ERA, while sophomore John Stevens is close behind with a 3-1 record, two saves, a 2.03 ERA and 32 strikeouts over 31 innings of work.
Southern California Ranking – No. 11
The Tigers have won five straight and 10-of-12 after starting the season at 2-3. Second behind OCC with nine team home runs, the Tigers have been led offensively by sophomore outfielder Dean Miller (.343, 23 hits, 15 runs, seven RBI). Sophomore sluggers Ryan Mota and John Gonzalez each have three home runs and the duo has combined for 35 hits, 24 runs and 23 RBI.
Sophomore righty Matt Acosta has been the No. 1 guy for the Tigers, going 3-1 with a 1.13 ERA and 29 strikeouts over 32 innings, while fellow sophomore Blake Tuttle is "1-A" with a 5-0 record, a 1.42 ERA and 30 strikeouts over 25 1/3 innings. Relievers Darin May and Christian Stiegele have combined for just two earned runs allowed over 22 innings and a 0.82 ERA.
Southern California Ranking – No. 8
You know you're in a tough conference when you're the eighth-ranked team in Southern California and the sixth-ranked team in the Orange Empire Conference (according to record). The Hornets have plenty of extra-base pop throughout the lineup with 50 extra-base hits and a conference-best 11 triples.
Sophomore Joey Parente has been the stud of the Hornets' lineup, batting .433 with 29 hits, 19 runs and a state-best six triples. Todd Yost is the lone FC player who has played in all 16 games and leads the team with 15 hits, while freshman Aaron Lizarraga is batting .300 with five doubles and a team-best 13 RBI.
On the mound, sophomore Chris Sanchez has been the main guy for the Hornets, going 3-2 with a 3.03 ERA and an impressive 35 2/3 innings of work, including a complete game.
Southern California Ranking – No. 20
After starting 1-4, the defending OEC champs and state runners-up ripped off six straight wins before stumbling last week with just one win over their last four games.
It's a revamped lineup for the Rustlers this year and so far, they lead the conference with a .308 team batting average. Leading the way for GWC include freshman infielder Zakk Morgan, who has a .397 batting average with 23 hits, four doubles and a team-best 12 RBI. Fellow freshman Jeff Zordani is second with 21 hits to go along with a .375 average and a team-best 13 runs scored.
Sophomore starters Tylor Franzman (3-3, 2.73 ERA, 21 strikeouts, 33 IP) and Stephen Knapp (3-1, one complete game, 3.03 ERA, 28 Ks in 32 2/3 IP) have been the mound leaders for the Rustlers, while sophomore Andrew Pactwa has notched a pair of saves in seven appearances.