Pasadena City College baseball head coach Pat McGee already did the "impossible" in turning the Lancers from a South Coast Conference doormat into a winning program, including a combined 49 wins and trips to the Southern California Regional Playoffs in 2017 and 2018. Now that the Lancers are on the map as a tough opponent to topple, the question now is can the program strive for bigger and better things in 2019?
"Obviously each year presents its own new challenge," McGee said. "The tradition being set here is that our sophomores are expected to be leaders and that the freshmen have some standards to live up to. I'm proud of what we are doing here. The progress we've made is huge and we continue to grow as a successful program."
McGee's returning class is especially strong with the return of 2018 All-SCC North Division First Team selections in pitching ace Gordon Ingebritson, outfielder Edward Manzo, and Second Team choice Ryan Lewis, who is moving from second base to shortstop. McGee is excited that he also returns another First Teamer and an All-Southern California award winner from his 2017 conference champion Lancers in outfielder Shane Ogata, who missed the entire '18 season as a medical redshirt. From Hawaii, Ogata became an offensive slugger as a freshman when he hit .359 with six triples, three home runs and drove in 27 RBI while also displaying solid defense in manning the difficult right field at Brookside Park's Jackie Robinson Field.
Manzo was the team's top hitter last season when he batted .350 with a team-best 27 RBI and five triples. Another returner is Frank Yokas, who McGee said is much improved from his freshman year. But the biggest splash is coveted recruit and freshman Gabriel Arellano, who is a 2-time, Pasadena Star-News All-Area First Team selection from Monrovia High. Arellano batted .467 with 10 doubles and 23 RBI as a senior.
"Our outfield is probably are biggest strength," McGee said. "With Ogata and Manzo's experience, you add in Arellano and we have some outstanding hitters. Arellano will likely bat leadoff for us."
Ingebritson leads a pitching staff that again could be one of the region's best. Last year, Ingebritson became the first PCC pitcher in 14 years to win seven games and his 2.29 ERA in a team-high 90.1 innings was the lowest earned runs average by a Lancers starting pitcher in 54 years. He is an early 4-year university scholarship signee as he committed to UC Irvine in November.
"Gordon is driven to be the best pitcher or even player on the field at any moment," McGee said. "He's a workhorse and anytime he takes the mound, we are going to be in the game. He's evolved into a leader for us."
Other lettermen pitchers are Patrick Pena (1-1, one save, 30 innings, 24 strikeouts), Lorenzo Llorens (team-high 18 appearances, 36.1 innings, three saves, 32 Ks), Frank Gonzalez (14 games, two saves), and Matt Orozco, the team's regular catcher last year but was a top prep hurler at Wilson High (Hacienda Heights). Of the incoming freshmen, the Lancers have dueling Bennys in Benny Torres, an All-San Gabriel Valley Tribune Second Team selection from San Dimas High who sparkled with nine victories and a 1.29 ERA as a senior, and hard-throwing Benny Olguin, a 2-time, PSN All-Area First Teamer. As a junior, Olguin was the MVP of the Almont League when he won nine games and had a sparkling 1.82 ERA. He followed that up last year as a senior by completing five shutouts, recording seven wins and a 2.10 ERA.
Michael Santana is another top prospect as he pitched for a Miramonte League champion and a CIF Division V semifinalist team at Pomona's Garey High. Santana also can hit and play infield.
The catchers are paced by redshirt sophomore transfer from Trinity University (Texas) Cole Pilar, a switch hitter and good receiver with tremendous potential, according to McGee. In 2016, Pilar was the MVP of the Prep League as a lethal hitter for Flintridge Prep in 2016. He hit .457 with 43 RBI and four home runs as a senior. Another talent is Pasadena High grad Adrian Depasquale, who hit .400 as a senior. McGee has even more depth with La Salle High backstop product Brennan Mace, a .435 hitter with 20 RBI last season.
PCC's infield is led by Lewis, who will make the transition to shortstop as a sophomore. Lewis batted .304 with 15 RBI for the Lancers and follows a distinguished line of slick-fielding shortstops produced by McGee that started with Thomas Castro (Bethesda University), then Alex Briggs (D1-Long Island University Brooklyn, All-NEC player who helped the team reach the NCAA Regionals last year), and Jose Jimenez (All-SCC Second Team last year, now at Cal State Dominguez Hills). Second base has competition with solid-fielding Andrew Scannell (Arcadia High), Johnny Cedeno, a .312 hitter and All-Rio Hondo League First Team selection from Temple City High, and Jake Sanchez (Alhambra HS).
The corners start with a trio of first basemen in Austin Ruiz, a 6-foot-3 transfer redshirt freshman from Azusa Pacific University who excelled at Diamond Ranch High, defensively-strong Vic Zepeda (San Dimas HS), and another big slugger in 6-4 Garrett Vlasak (Citrus Valley High). Ruiz is also a pitcher while Vlasak and Yokas could see time at designated hitter.
Saving maybe the best for last is third base where coming in with bells and whistles is Marco Martinez (Maranatha High), who as a junior was the Pasadena Star-News Player of the Year and was All-CIF as a senior when he batted .405 with 28 RBI. "Marco is one of the most mature offensive players to ever enter our program," McGee said. "He has the potential to be a great hitter at our level and beyond."
On the team as a whole, the coach said, "We have probably our toughest pre-conference schedule and it's designed to toughen this group. We always grow as the season progresses and play our best baseball in those final weeks. It's a talented group and we have depth at key positions this year. Our program has been built on player development and having the players buy into our philosophy. It's a big reason why we've been successful these past few seasons and have high expectations this year."
The Lancers open the 2019 season at Citrus College on Saturday, Jan. 26 at 1 p.m. PCC's first home game is Saturday, Feb. 9 in another local matchup v. Glendale, a 6 p.m. under-the-lights first pitch. Finally, PCC's 22-game, South Coast Conference schedule begins Thursday, Feb. 28 when the Lancers host Long Beach City College. Pasadena's SCC North Division opponents remain the same in Mt. San Antonio, East Los Angeles, Rio Hondo, and Chaffey.