Optimistic Culver Begins Baseball Season

The Culver City High baseball team is looking to defend its Ocean League title and move deep into the playoffs by capitalizing on a veteran roster to carry the 2017 season.

The first phase of preparation includes scheduling 14 games in three significant tournaments leading into league play. Pitching and defense paved the way to a perfect 10-0 league record and 21-8 overall record last season.

This season Head Coach Rick Prieto is encouraging his batters to swing smarter and harder to support the team's core strengths. A recent 10-2 victory at home showed glimpses of that potential offense after a slow start.

"We just finished playing the Southern California Invitational Tournament. We played five games in eight days so a lot of guys got an opportunity to pitch. We ended up going 2-3 in the five games which isn't what we expected to do," said Prieto.

"When we played Garfield we kind of just broke out of it. Our guys ended up with 18 hits and 10 runs. We thought that would carry us through. We're really working on our approach to hitting and making it as simple as possible."

The Centaurs opened the tournament with a 4-2 loss at home to Taft High. Three days later they rebounded and beat Dorsey, 5-1. Two days later they were shut out at Chaminade High in West Hills, 4-0. Two days later they smothered Garfield, 10-2 before losing 5-4 at Brentwood School days later.

This Tuesday, March 14 they lost a 3-2 ballgame to annual South Bay rival Mira Costa in Manhattan Beach. Culver hosts South High of Torrance this weekend to begin four consecutive Saturday games participating in the Chatsworth Tournament.

"We had runners on first and second with two outs against Taft in the seventh inning, a few hits from tying the game and a big hit to possibly win it. "Against Dorsey we didn't hit the ball all that well but played good defense and had good pitching."

The game against Chaminade was one of those classic one-hour, 35-minute games. It was just some innings where they scored some runs. However, we did have scoring opportunities in that game," said Prieto.

"Number one, my philosophy is that the more I can get quality teams to play us, when we get to the playoff rounds we're prepared. There are no surprises in terms of the quality and level of play when we get to the playoffs. We've been there."

"Secondly, and as important as the first one, it gives me an opportunity to play a lot of players in a short period of time. So we're looking at the possibility of three starters. Normally we have two so we're giving someone an opportunity to start a game and develop the arm strength and endurance to go more than an inning or two."

The Centaurs have a quality pitching staff in terms of numbers as seven to eight guys can throw from the mound. Currently the two starters penciled in when league starts are Max Sterner and Eli Saucedo. Daniel Aceves is the closer with Andrew Calo, Ryan Weiner, Matt Paspalis and Jason Zeidman slated for necessary starting or coming out of the bullpen.

Culver will once again employ a rotation between the pitcher's mound and first base to promote and conserve their starters. When Sterner pitches, Saucedo will play first base. When Saucedo pitches, Sterner will play first. Last season Nolan Martinez and Saucedo dominated the league using this tactic with each compiling 5-0 records and impressively low earned run averages.

Prieto: "The two advantages we have is one: they're resting a little more because they're at a position where they're not exerting as much before or after a game. And two, the most important part: there's not a whole lot of wear and tear on their arms after they've pitched or before."

"Pitching and defense allows us to win a lot of ballgames. Obviously I would love to bang the ball at every opportunity and score ten runs every game. But unfortunately depending on who our opponent is and the quality of the pitching will vary on how we score runs."

Senior Justin Weiner, a converted left fielder from last year, is the starting catcher. James Roque, a sophomore, is the backup catcher and will also see a bit of action at first base.

Prieto: "Justin has not caught one inning for me in three years prior to the beginning of the season. So we're making a catcher. We have James Roque helping Justin out back there. Because of the Lion's Tournament coming up, we're playing Friday, Saturday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. That's a heavy workload playing-wise but for catcher alone that's very demanding."

All-Ocean Leaguer Daniel Aceves returns as the third baseman and Mason Le, a freshman on last season's varsity team, takes over at shortstop. Another all-leaguer, Ryan Weiner, is back at second base.

The outfield is still being pieced together. Bobby Capa, a junior, is playing in right field. Andrew Olmedo has given an opportunity in centerfield. Alex Smith, also a Culver High football player, will play a little left field. Zeidman will platoon in the outfield and Sterner when needed.

The upcoming Anaheim Tournament will be challenging. Culver opens up with Arlington High of Riverside. The second game will be at home against a local team, Windward High, on Saturday, March 25. The third game will be against Martin Luther King High of Riverside followed by Reno High of Nevada.

"Unfortunately for the varsity level they don't get a lot of time off for the spring. So we give them a taste of their Spring Break by taking them out to Anaheim," said Prieto.

"We're staying at the Red Lion for two nights. It's a really nice hotel. We've been there before. Then we'll come back and rest a couple of days before we get ready for a league opener against Lawndale and Torrance after that."

The Centaurs are encouraged to finally have their workout facilities in full operation following three years of upgrades along with major field renovations. The playing field passed the weather test during the recent rains that drenched the area.

"We're utilizing the batting cages as much as possible but with three teams (varsity, junior-varsity, freshmen) we probably need a couple more working on the facility," stated Prieto.

"The bullpen is probably our most important asset because we're able to have three pitchers at one time. It's a quality bullpen. The dirt is very, very firm. It just takes a little maintenance by the pitchers and a little water and it's ready to go the next day."

"The recent rain helped quite a bit but at one point I was wondering if that saturation was ever going to leave the grass area and more importantly the infield. We made it work. We used the outfield quite a bit, the blacktop and the asphalt behind the first base dugout to run drills, bunts, defense. We used what we could to get prepared for this coming season."


2017 Culver City High Baseball Roster (Uniform No. - Player - Grade - Position):

2 - Jason Zeidman - Senior - Outfield, Pitcher; 3 - Alex Smith - Junior - Outfield; 4 - Daniel Aceves - Third Base, Pitcher; 7 - Mason Le - Sophomore - Short Stop, Second Base; 8 - Bobby Capa - Junior - Infield, Outfield, Pitcher; 10 - Ryan Weiner - Senior - Second Base, Short Stop, Pitcher; 11 - Justin Weiner - Senior - Catcher, Outfield; 13 - Andrew Calo - Senior - Pitcher; 18 - Eli Saucedo - Senior - Pitcher, First Base; 22 - Max Sterner - Senior - Pitcher, First Base, Outfield; 24 - Anthony Amador - Senior - Catcher, Outfield; 25 - James Roque - Sophomore - Catcher, First Base; 28 - Matt Paspalis - Senior - Pitcher, Outfield; 30 - Donovan Haase - Senior - Utility; 32 - Andrew Olmeda - Junior - Outfield; 42 - Matt Rummelsburg - Senior - Catcher, Second Base


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