FOUR & MORE: Best Inland Area JUCOs

BASEBALL 2012

1. Riverside — The four-time state champions (2000, ’01, ’02 and ’07) have just seven sophomores on a roster loaded with talent. Among the many freshmen expected to make an impact is Ryan Garvey (Palm Desert HS), a five-tool outfielder. Garvey, the son of former Los Angeles Dodgers great Steve Garvey, is a transfer from USC. The pitching staff is anchored by sophomores Matt Chabot (Woodcrest Christian HS) and Jordan Mejia (Riverside Arlington HS). Chabot, a 6-foot-2 right-hander, was 3-3 and led the team with eights starts and 48.1 innings last season, while Mejia, also a 6-foot-2 righty, was second on the team with 41.1 innings.

2. Chaffey — The Panthers, 11 times the Foothill Conference champions, reached the state playoffs for an eighth consecutive season in 2011. Coach Jeff Harlow has snagged a couple of talented freshman from Corona Centennial HS, and will likely insert INF Devon Raltston and C/1B Robert Cummins into the lineup almost immediately. Leading the way will be returning sophomores Julio Espinoza (Rialto HS), Tim Helton (Upland HS) and Matt Redfearn (Upland HS), who all hit better than .330 in at least 100 ABs last season.

3. San Bernardino Valley — The Wolverines haven’t won a Foothill Conference title since 2004, but that seven-year trend could change this season. Sophomores Adam Quintana (San Bernardino San Gorgonio HS) and Rafael Romo (Riverside North HS) are returning all-conference players, and Coach Bill Mierzwk has brought in three pitchers 6-foot-3 or taller, high-lighted by 6-foot-5 lefty Steven Creswell (Lake Arrowhead Rim of the World HS).

4. Mt. San Jacinto — Easily the most experienced JUCO ball club in the Inland Area, the Eagles will feature 18 sophomores this season. Coach Steve Alonzo, now in his 25th season, should see big seasons from C Paul Cortes (Temecula Valley HS) and OF Randy Castro (Riverside Ramona HS), both of whom hit better than .400 in 16 games apiece. The team is mostly bereft of power, however, and could struggle drive in runs.

AND MORE: Barstow — The Vikings were the most improved team in California in 2011, finishing 19-17 behind an excellent offense that finished fourth in the state in both team BA (.323) and OBP (.422). Reigning Foothill Conference Coach of the Year Mike Karper will feature returning first-team all-confernce OF Andres Ortiz (Las Vegas Legacy HS), who hit .353 with 15 RBI last season.

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