Over the last three seasons it was Oakdale and everybody else in the Valley Oak League.
With several key members graduated and another coming off offseason Tommy John surgery, the Mustangs may not be what they have been but are still formidable.
Parity in the VOL is nothing new, but this year the rest of the contending field is looking to end Oakdale’s three-year reign.
Oakdale and Sonora qualified for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoffs in 2009, but the VOL will have three spots available this year.
Six of the nine conference teams begin conference action this week while East Union, Sierra and Weston Ranch continue their non-league schedules.
Manteca (2-4-1) and Lathrop (2-2) start things off for area teams today when they tangle for the first of two meetings this week at Manteca’s varsity diamond.
Manteca senior Matt Barber (2-0, 0.37 ERA) has shined from the mound. Junior Matt Burrows (0-3, 2.69) has had moments of brilliance but with it some hard-luck losses against stiff competition.
Sophomore third baseman Daniel Miramontes (.571 batting average), junior middle infielder Gabe Rellamas (.400) and junior center fielder Michael Timmins (.400, four steals) give the Buffaloes hope for the future but are producing well in the present.
The future is what the Spartans of Lathrop, coached by former Sierra standout Randy Baltazar, has their eyes on as they enter their first varsity season in the competitive VOL.
They are led by sophomore infielder Gabriel Castellanos (.700), junior Kevin Howard (.583) and junior pitchers Michael Lopez (2.80, 12 strikeouts in five innings) and Oscar Calix (0.00 ERA, nine strikeouts in five innings).
Lathrop’s first-ever varsity wins came in succession against small schools Rio Vista and Delta Charter but it lost to another first-year program in Cosumnes Oaks and established small-school Ripon.
Sierra (2-0) will look to junior middle infielder/pitcher Dylan DeBrouwer (1.40 ERA) to fill the large cleats left by 2009 all-area MVP Andy Scott. Sophomore infielder/pitcher John Waggy (.400)
East Union (1-2) is off to a shaky start but there is no shortage of talent there.
All-VOL honorable mention second baseman John Ott returns, and freshman Jordan Kron replaces three-year standout Wade Morten behind the plate. Kron was contributed to USA Baseball’s title run in the 14-and-under Pan-Am Championships in Ecuador this past fall.
Sophomore outfielder Steven Gigli (.556, home run) has proven himself ready for varsity and junior OF/pitcher Joe Modesto (.400, HR) was stellar in his only start (a four-inning 9-1 win over Patterson) from the mound.
Weston Ranch (2-3) is already a win away from matching last year’s win total. Senior catcher Corey Lee (.538), senior pitcher/outfielder (.357; 0.70 ERA, 19 strikeouts in 10 innings) and Steven Singh (.333) give the Cougars a solid core of returning players.
Akiha Etu (.500, two HRs), a 6-foot-2, 225-pound junior, adds pop to the lineup, and sophomore Tyler Scharnow (3.11, 12 strikeouts, nine innings)
Even with the likes of VOL MVP Justin Jones, co-Offensive Player of the Year Vince Helms, and three first-team honorees, the Mustangs still have reason to be optimistic with players from the defending league champion freshman and sophomore squads already contributing at the varsity level.
Sonora (4-2) has varsity experience on its side, and its two non-league losses were against top Division-I programs in Tracy and Lincoln both of the San Joaquin Athletic Association. All-league second-team infielder Ryan Emerald returns.
Central Valley (5-1) has the makings of a darkhorse contender after its hot start. Four-year varsity player Greg Guerra (.476, 10 RBIs; 1.11 ERA, nine strikeouts in 6.1 innings) has stepped up for graduated three-year ace Martin Gomez.
Ceres (2-4-1) finished in the middle of the back last season despite having up to six underclassmen starting at one point. Two of them, Tyler Cummings and Dustin Baisdon, earned all-league second-team honors.