Prep Baseball Players to Watch this Spring

Tracy third baseman Lee Brewer hits a single during the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I South playoffs in May 2016 at Pacific's Klein Family Field in Stockton. RECORD FILE 2016

Lee Brewer was not The Record’s All-Area Baseball Player of the Year last spring (it was impossible to deny St. Mary’s center fielder Jarron Silva, now at UCLA), but he certainly produced a deserving season.

Brewer, now a senior and third baseman for the defending Sac-Joaquin Section Division I South champion Bulldogs, batted .393 with nine home runs, nine doubles, a triple and 29 RBI. He also posted an on-base percentage of .590 and a slugging percentage of .820 for an unearthly 1.510 OPS. Brewer might be a corner infielder and a power hitter, but he’s also fast, with 14 stolen bases in 16 tries.

He’s been recruited by NCAA Division I programs, namely on the West Coast, and don’t be surprised if he appears for a West Coast Conference program.

Brewer is one of 10 of my returning players to watch for the 2017 season. Here are 10 more:

Christian Almanza, St. Mary’s 1B, junior

Almanza commanded his bat like a veteran all-star as just a sophomore last season. The tall lefty batted .360 with a homer, 10 doubles and 25 RBI, with an on-base percentage of .424. While he can remain a contact hitter, expect Almanza’s power numbers to grow as he physically matures.

Jacob Standridge, Bear Creek RHP, senior

Standridge wasn’t given a 6-foot-6 frame, a superb fastball or a gnarly breaking ball. But man, the Bruins’ ace knows how to pitch. And Standridge’s expertise, with a great, aggressive means of throwing strikes and mixing location and speeds, led Bear Creek to the San Joaquin Athletic Association championship and an unexpected playoff run. Bear Creek knocked out area foes Lodi and Lincoln (via upset) of the Division I South playoffs, and had St. Mary’s on the ropes with a one-run lead entering the seventh inning before a dramatic comeback. Standridge went 8-1 with 1.00 ERA including six complete games. He struck out 57, walked 15 and didn’t allow a homer.

Cody Bolton, Tracy RHP, senior

Bolton is a two-time first-team All-Area pitcher who’s headed to play Division I ball at the University of Michigan. He’s a slender-but-powerful, 6-foot-5 pitcher, who went 8-1 with a 1.96 ERA as a junior. Bolton came through on a big stage, beating Elk Grove in Game 2 of the Division I finals series by allowing one earned run on eight hits across six innings, with seven strikeouts and one walk.

Joseph Chalco, Lincoln CF, senior

Chalco is the type of player — fast, incredibly smart and an excellent defensive player — who would excel in any era of baseball. The returning first-team All-Area pick batted .316 with seven doubles and four triples, and his arm in center field was a great weapon for Lincoln.

Nate Torres, Bear Creek C/RHP/UT, senior

Torres came into his own as a powerful middle-of-the-lineup basher late in the season for Bear Creek. Oh, and he can pitch, too! Torres batted .427 with a homer, 15 doubles and a whopping 37 RBI, with a .519 on-base percentage and a .629 slugging percentage for an OPS of 1.148. On the mound, Torres went 4-2 with a 1.81 ERA in seven starts.

Josh Alvarado, Tracy OF, junior

Alvarado wasted no time making an impact on the varsity stage. The Bulldogs’ speedy outfielder hit .330 with seven doubles and 22 RBI, with five stolen bases. He might move to center field after the graduation of Robert “Yaya” Garcia and could be a leadoff hitter should Tracy move Brewer to the middle of the order. However, Brewer had great success at the top spot so a Brewer-Alvarado, 1-2 punch could be deadly.

Jack Mayer, Ripon RHP/UT, senior

Mayer was a menace in the Trans-Valley League for the Indians as a junior. He batted .356 with 13 RBI but his major impact came on the mound. Mayer went 11-2 with a 2.08 ERA, four shutouts, six complete games, no-hitter and 98 strikeouts.

Kyle Rachels, Manteca UT, junior

Rachels thrived in relative obscurity for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III champion Buffaloes a year ago. The then-sophomore, a second-team All-Area pick for The Record, batted .351 with three homers, five triples, seven doubles and 31 RBI. Junior standouts may define VOL baseball in the city of Manteca, as Sierra’s Jacob Peterson, a fellow second-team All-Area pick, is another player to keep an eye on.

Dillon Tatum, St. Mary’s C, junior

Tatum was not only a solid backstop for the Rams, but had some pop, batting .349 with three homers (including one in the playoffs), seven doubles and 23 RBI. He and Almanza could be a premier 3-4 duo that can wear down TCAL pitching with the best of them. Plus, that experience at catcher is invaluable for any team with section championship aspirations.

Tyler Lozano, St. Mary’s IF, junior

Lozano was an unsung hero for the Rams, batting .417 with four doubles and a .525 on-base percentage. Expect him to be a fixture at the top of the order for St. Mary’s.

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Phone: 209-546-8272

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SJAA Boys Basketball Playoff Scenarios

Chavez guard Carlos Gaston, center, drives against Edison during a San Joaquin Athletic Association boys basketball game in January at Chavez High in Stockton. CLIFFORD OTO/RECORD FILE 2017

March Madness is here 19 days early.

The final night of San Joaquin Athletic Association regular-season boys basketball is here. And before we dive into potential playoff scenarios, here’s a quick look at the hierarchy:

2016-17 SJAA standings

T1. Edison 7-2, 17-9*

T1. Stagg 7-2, 17-9*

3. Chavez 6-3, 13-12

4. Franklin 5-4, 8-15

T5. McNair 1-8, 3-20

T5. Bear Creek 1-8, 4-22

*Clinched Sac-Joaquin Section playoff bids

HERE’S THE RUNDOWN

  • Franklin hosts Edison and Chavez hosts Stagg both at 7 p.m. tonight.
  • If Franklin and Chavez win: Edison, Stagg and Chavez split the league title three ways and Chavez gets the top seed due to going 3-1 against Edison and Stagg, while Edison would be 2-2 and Stagg would be 1-3.
  • If Franklin and Stagg win: Stagg is the outright SJAA champion, Edison is the runner-up and Chavez and Franklin are left tied for the third and final playoff seed. That would mean a play-in game, which Chavez would host since it has a better point differential in splitting two games with Franklin. That game would likely be held on Wednesday, Feb. 15.
  • If Edison and Chavez win: Edison would be outright champion for a second consecutive season, and Chavez and Stagg would tie for second place. Chavez would have the No. 2 seed since it would have swept Stagg.
  • If Edison and Stagg win: Edison and Stagg split the SJAA championship banner, but Stagg would have the top playoff seed due to a better head-to-head point differential. Chavez would be alone in the spot for the third playoff bid.
NUMBER TO KNOW
14
It’s been 14 years since Franklin reached the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs. The Yellowjackets made the Division I bracket and faced Carmichael-Jesuit in February 2003.

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Edison’s Almendarez honored by Cal-Hi Sports

Edison point guard Celeste Almendarez, right, has been named one of Cal-Hi Sports' weekly state stat stars. CLIFFORD OTO/RECORD FILE 2016

Celeste Almendarez, a junior point guard on the back-to-back SJAA champion Edison girls basketball team, has been honored as one of Cal-Hi Sports’ State Stat Stars of the Week.

Almendarez had two triple-doubles last week, with 35 points, 13 rebounds and 10 steals in a 69-36 win over McNair and 22 points, 15 rebounds and 12 assists in a 77-36 win over Chavez.

This season, Almendarez has five triple-doubles this year and 11 in her three-year varsity career.

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Lincoln girls ranked No. 8 in NorCal

The Lincoln girls basketball team are the top-ranked area team in NorCalPreps’ latest Top 20 hierarchy.

Lincoln is No. 8, followed directly by rival St. Mary’s at No. 9. The Trojans beat the Rams 48-42 on  Jan. 29 at Lincoln. Lincoln is also The Record’s top-ranked large school team and St. Mary’s is No. 2. Brookside Christian was formerly in the top 20 but has dropped out after losing to Albany-Saint Mary’s.

There are no area teams in the boys rankings despite appearances by Elliot Christian and Lincoln earlier this season.

However, the St. Mary’s boys team is No. 22 in The Sacramento Bee’s Joe Davidson’s NorCal Top 25 for MaxPreps.com. St. Mary’s moved up one spot from No. 23 after beating Tokay, West and Modesto-Gregori in succession.

West dropped out after being No. 24.

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Boys basketball on center stage in San Joaquin County

The Chavez, in white, and Edison boys basketball teams are SJAA co-leaders and meet at 7 p.m. today at Edison's Taggart Gym in Stockton. CLIFFORD OTO/RECORD FILE 2017

The biggest night of boys basketball thus far this season is here. There are enormous games for league championship, and playoff implications, in the Tri-City Athletic League, San Joaquin Athletic Association and Valley Oak League.

Here’s a brief look at all three. The Record is planning on having a reporter at all three games so make sure to grab a copy of The Record on Saturday and look online at recordnet.com late tonight.

I’ll be covering No. 2 West at No. 1 St. Mary’s (The Record’s large school rankings indicated there) at 7 p.m. at Morelli Gym via Twitter.

 

 

 

No. 2 West at No. 1 St. Mary’s

Storyline: The Record’s top-three ranked teams, and the TCAL’s top three teams, St. Mary’s, West and Lincoln are bizarrely 0-4 at home when they play each other head-to-head. St. Mary’s has a chance to break that pattern tonight, as it hosts its toughest three games remaining: West, Lincoln and Tokay. If St. Mary’s wins, it will keep the top spot in The Record’s power rankings. If West wins, I will probably decide to make it a three-way tie between St. Mary’s, West and Lincoln, who, if Lincoln beats Lodi, would be in a three-way tie for first place in the TCAL. Keep in mind that the TCAL gets three automatic playoff bids, and Tracy is only behind second-place Lincoln and West by one game each. West has a good enough record that it could probably get into the postseason with a fourth-place finish barring a crazy collapse.

Chavez at Edison

Storyline: Franklin quietly provided an upset earlier this week, beating Chavez, which hadn’t yet lost an SJAA game, 69-63 behind a whopping 63 points from Milton Jordan, Now the Titans and Vikings are tied atop the league at 6-1. Edison was the 2016 outright champion and Chavez split the banner with Bear Creek in 2015. It’s senior night for Edison and they should have a big home crowd at Taggart Gym. Expect seniors in the Vikings’ Wesley Bookman and the Titans’ Carlos Gaston to have a massive impact on the outcome at both ends of the floor.

No. 4 Manteca at Weston Ranch

Storyline: When you think about the Buffaloes last season, you remember them winning a CIF State Division III championship. What you overlook is they were VOL and Sac-Joaquin Section Division III runners-up to Weston Ranch. In fact, Manteca hasn’t won a league title in seven years. The Buffaloes clinch at least a share of the VOL by winning today, and if they win and Central Catholic loses, they are outright champions. But look out, a young Weston Ranch team has been playing better basketball, and might have enough depth — albeit with a lot of inexperienced players — to present an upset bid.

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Kelly, Verhoeven, Pieters honored by Cal-Hi Sports

Manteca forward Tydus Verhoeven, center, dunks in a nonleague loss to Lincoln in December at Winter Gym. CLIFFORD OTO/RECORD FILE 2016

Lincoln High’s Andre Kelly, Manteca’s Tydus Verhoeven and Stockton Christian’s Kadyn Pieters were all named State Stat Stars of the Week by Cal-Hi Sports.

Here’s why each of these (Kelly and Verhoeven are seniors and Pieters is a freshman) made the list:

  • Kelly had 32 points and 20 rebounds in Lincoln’s 89-61 win at Tokay.
  • Verhoeven approached a triple-double with 24 points, 19 rebounds and nine blocks in an 81-61 win at Lathrop.
  • Pieters, who has two 40-points games this season, poured out 29 points with 18 rebounds, eight steals, six assists and four blocks in a 64-36 win over Delta Charter. She is the younger sister of Cameron Pieters, who led the Stockton Christian boys to a NorCal title game last March and is now playing for Delta College.
http://youtu.be/A8JNn6K9IVk

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Injury-plagued St. Mary’s girls still No. 9 in state

Tom Gonsalves, coach of the St. Mary's girls basketball team, during his squad's game against Las Vegas-Centennial in the Rams' MLK Showcase on Jan. 14 at Morelli Gym in Stockton. CRAIG SANDERS/RECORD FILE 2017

The St. Mary’s girls basketball team is down to No. 9 in Cal-Hi Sports’ latest state rankings.

But it’s no wonder, given the rash of injuries that’s hit key players.

Junior forward Aquira DeCosta, a dominating, 6-foot-2 player with the fleetness of a guard, has a torn meniscus. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, there are two surgical solutions. One is a full meniscus repair, which takes roughly three months for a full recovery (DeCosta would be done for the season). The other is a meniscectomy, where the damaged  meniscus tissue is simply trimmed away. This recovery time is closer to three-to-four weeks. I am not sure yet what’s happening with DeCosta.

Not to mention, Naje Murray, a San Diego State-bound senior guard, is still recovering from an ACL tear to her right knee from July of last year. Nicole Young, another would-be contributing guard (and possibly a starter) is also out with a knee injury.

Health, and the development of role players like Amaya Oliver and Jada Moss around juniors Ariel Johnson and Neenah Young will determine this team’s fate come March.

NorCalPreps: St. Mary’s (14-6) is No. 3 in NorCalPreps’ Top 20, while Lincoln (13-6) is No. 14 and Brookside Chrsitian (17-4) is 17th.

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Girls Basketball: All-Area Player of the Year Watchlist

St. Mary's guard Ariel Johnson, right, goes for a reverse layup against Bishop Alemany at the Rams' MLK Showcase on Monday at Morelli Gym in Stockton. Johnson scored a game-high 25 points. CLIFFORD OTO/RECORD FILE 2017

Girls basketball is perhaps the most impressive high school sport in Stockton and San Joaquin County, and this year is proving it yet again.

Not only is St. Mary’s ranked No. 6 in the state by Cal-Hi Sports, but Lincoln and Brookside Christian join the Rams in NorCalPreps’ Top 20 rankings.

Here is my All-Area Player of the Year Watchlist, in its first edition for 2016-17:

Remember: This is just for fun, and this list can change dramatically before season’s end. The Record puts a huge emphasis on winning teams, so there are players who are probably good enough to be on this list, but whose teams are struggling in league play so they’re less likely to win this award

Aquira DeCosta (St. Mary’s forward, junior)

DeCosta is a double-double waiting to happen, and the scary part is, she’s still just scratching the surface of her potential. The 6-foot-2 Rams star just posted 23 points and 15 rebounds in an 89-69 win over Mission Hills-Bishop Alemany on Monday in St. Mary’s MLK Showcase. She’s ESPN’s top-rated prospect for the Class of 2018.

Ariel Johnson (St. Mary’s guard, junior)

Johnson, despite being recruited my many, still flies a little under the spotlight because of the recruiting notoriety of DeCosta. But make no mistake, Johnson is relentless, can score by driving to the basket, hit 3-pointers and wreak havoc on defense. She’s the kind of versatile that college recruiters love and that will translate well to big-time college basketball. I could see Johnson in the Pac-12. She’s averaging 15 points, five rebounds and four assists.

Loretta Kakala (Manteca center, senior)

Kakala was recently named the first McDonald’s All-American from the city of Manteca, and the fourth from San Joaquin County (joining St. Mary’s graduates Jacki Gemelos, Chelsea Gray and Afure Jemerigbe). She’s averaging 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Buffaloes, who sit atop the Valley Oak League standings as the only team without a loss.

Celeste Almendarez (Edison guard, junior)

Almendarez is 5-foot-7 in a lineup that features three 6-footers — Vantajia Warren, Jaliah Williams and Koletta Wooten — but her IQ, speed, unselfishness and tenacity make her the Vikings’ catalyst. Plus, she could post a triple-double at any time. Almendarez is averaging 20 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.

Donwanae Anthony (Kimball forward, senior)

Anthony isn’t just a powerful forward with the ability to score at will, but is a superb facilitator for her teammates. She’s putting up 17 points and 11 boards per game, though Kimball is in a rough stretch after consecutive VOL losses to Manteca and Modesto-Central Catholic.

Shaylene Stark (Brookside Christian guard, senior)

Stark was an excellent complement last year for Aari McDonald (two-time All-Area Player of the Year, and now a Washington guard). Now, she’s beyond important for a team that literally doesn’t have any bench due to an already thin roster and a key injury. Stark is averaging 14 points, five rebounds and five assists.

Deyliana Lewis (Bear Creek forward, sophomore)

Lewis is the only forward who starts for the guard-heavy Bruins, but runs the floor like a guard and can do a bit of everything for Bear Creek. Lewis, whose nickname is “Dey Dey”, averages 10 points, six rebounds and two steals.

Zahria Hendrix (Lincoln guard, senior)

The Trojans have a balanced scoring attack, but Hendrix is the best open-court defender, has a great 3-point shot, can get to the basket and is a threat for blocking shots, too. The Stanislaus State signee is averaging 11 points, seven boards and four steals.

MORE NAMES TO WATCH

Kiara Manipol (Lincoln guard, senior)

Neenah Young (St. Mary’s forward, junior)

Vantajia Warren (Edison forward, senior)

Donja Payne (East Union forward, sophomore)

Savannah Henson (Brookside Christian guard, junior)

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Twitter: @RecordPreps

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Phone: 209-546-8272

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Boys Basketball: All-Area Player of the Year Watchlist

West guard Michael Hayes, left, and Lincoln forward Andre Kelly are both candidates for The Record's All-Area Boys Basketball Player of the Year. CLIFFORD OTO/RECORD FILE 2017

There’s a month left of regular-season high school basketball in the Sac-Joaquin Section.

Though The Record does use postseason performance in our end-of-year honors, it’s time for my first watchlist for both boys and girls basketball All-Area Players of the Year.

Remember: This is just for fun, and this list can change dramatically before season’s end. The Record puts a huge emphasis on winning teams, so there are players who are probably good enough to be on this list, but whose teams are struggling in league play so they’re less likely to win this award.

Michael Hayes (West guard, junior)

Hayes did have a rough night Wednesday, as he was in constant foul trouble during St. Mary’s 68-66 Tri-City Athletic League win at West. However, in terms of sheer explosiveness, competitiveness and impact, he is still as good a candidate as anybody.

Plus, Hayes has the highlight of the year, hitting the game-winning shot in a 65-64 win on Friday at Lincoln. He’s a returning first-team, All-Area selection for The Record.

Andre Kelly (Lincoln forward, junior)

Kelly has as good a chance as anyone of winning this award. He was already dynamic as a sophomore, in a second-team All-Area season, and has only gotten better. The 6-foot-8 Kelly is putting up 25 points and 14 rebounds per game, shooting an impeccable 65 percent from the field.

Tydus Verhoeven (Manteca forward, senior)

Verhoeven has truly put it together as the senior leader and eclectic virtuoso that the Valley Oak League-leading Buffaloes need. If the season ended today, Verhoeven would have my vote, and probably most of the coaches’ votes, for VOL MVP. The 6-8 senior is averaging 15 points, 12 rebounds, and crazily, six blocks per game. In a pivotal 61-58 win over Modesto-Central Catholic last week, Verhoeven had 27 points, 18 rebounds and four blocks. That is player of the year stuff if I’ve ever seen it.

Bryce Johnson (St. Mary’s forward, sophomore)

Johnson has the impressive distinction in being the only varsity newcomer in this main batch of candidates. The 6-6 forward dazzled in St. Mary’s biggest game of the season, pouring in 22 points against West. Johnson is averaging a team-high 16 points, along with 10 rebounds.

TreVon Simmons (Brookside Christian guard, senior)

Simmons and sophomore forward Jalen Williams (one of the extra names to watch) could both be on this list. Simmons, though, has been to two Sac-Joaquin Section championship games in his career. He has the motivation of coming to the brink of a title last year, in that crazy overtime loss to Mariposa County, and he was excellent then. Simmons is even better this year, and was averaging over 20 points per game earlier in the season. He has the capability to shoot over 40 percent from 3-point land consistently and that’s vital in modern basketball.

Jalen Valverde (Elliot Christian guard, senior)

Valverde gets the slight nod over teammate Jimmy Beltz (leading scorer, prolific 3-point shooter) because of his all-around impact and ability to light up an entire stat sheet. The Eagles’ point guard averages 16 points, nine assists and seven rebounds in what could be a special season for Elliot Christian: The Record’s top-ranked small-school team as of this week.

Junior Ballard (Lathrop guard, junior)

Ballard is perhaps the area’s most talented scorer, especially with his dynamic ability to finish around the basket. The man who became Lathrop’s first player to score over 50 points in a single game (last season against Sierra) is averaging 24 points and shooting 52 percent from the field. Ballard’s candidacy will hinge upon Lathrop’s late-season performance: how they fare in the VOL’s homestretch and potentially, the section’s Division IV playoff bracket.

MORE NAMES TO WATCH

Carlos Gaston (Chavez guard, senior)

Wesley Bookman (Edison forward, senior)

Cutrell Haywood (Stagg forward, senior)

Ephraim Estell (West forward, senior)

Jordan Trotter (St. Mary’s forward, senior)

Zeke Holman (Lincoln guard/forward, junior)

Jimmy Beltz (Elliot Christian guard, senior)

Aidan Green (Tokay guard/forward, senior)

Raul Melgarejo (Weston Ranch forward, sophomore)

Jalen Williams (Brookside Christian forward, sophomore)

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St. Mary’s girls ranked No. 6 in state

St. Mary's forward Aquira DeCosta, front, goes up for a layup against Bishop Alemany during their MLK Showcase game Monday at Morelli Gym in Stockton. DeCosta had 23 points in the 89-69 win. CLIFFORD OTO/RECORD FILE 2017

Cal-Hi Sports’ latest top 20 state girls basketball rankings are out, and St. Mary’s (13-4) has jumped from No. 7 to No. 6.

Cal-Hi is most impressed, it says, with a three-point loss to powerful Las-Vegas Centennial. Even more than beating Mission Hills-Alemany by 20 two days later. Click here to read the full rankings.

Lincoln (12-5) and Brookside Christian (15-4) are listed as bubble teams. There are no area boys teams in the state’s top 20.

In NorCalPreps’ Top 20, St. Mary’s is No. 2, Lincoln is No. 14 and Brookside Christian is No. 17. Lincoln and Elliot Christian have both been in the boys Top 20 at some point this season, but that hierarchy is currently devoid of any area teams. The top Sac-Joaquin Section representative is Roseville-Woodcreek at No. 2.

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Phone: 209-546-8272

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