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Juco : : Story
Junior College Notebook 3/29
Published: Thursday, March 29, 2012

Top 50 Junior College Teams (updated 3/26)

California School Moves to Top of Rankings

California schools have never been members of the sprawling National Junior College Athletic Association, so it’s often difficult to gauge the relative strength of junior-college baseball in California vs. the remainder of the country.

But talent is talent, no matter where it comes from, and on that count California’s Orange Coast College may have as much raw talent this spring as any junior-college team in the country. With seven players and possibly an eighth earmarked for NCAA Division I college programs, the Pirates have a plentiful supply of front-line talent.

Orange Coast has also led the state’s charge for national respect by posting an impressive 22-2-1 record to date that has jumped the team to the top of the heap in Perfect Game’s latest ranking of the nation’s top 50 junior-college teams after starting the season at No. 4.

The Pirates have stayed close to home, playing an all-California schedule in their rise to No. 1, but have knocked off almost all comers. They are 9-1 in the Orange Empire Conference, possibly the toughest junior-college league in the country, and have posted three-game sweeps of traditional California power and Orange Empire rival Cypress College, the nation’s No. 24 team to start the 2012 season, and current No. 23 Cuesta College, which has since rebounded to win won 17 of its last 18 games.

Success on a California-wide scale is nothing new for Orange Coast, which won a state title with a school-record 37 wins in 2009 and made another gallant run at a state championship in 2005, but Pirates coach John Altobelli believes this year’s club is both the deepest and most-talented he has had in his 20-year run.

It’s a good group of guys,” Altobelli said. “They like to play hard and they play well together, but the thing that really separates this team from 2005 and 2009 is the depth of our pitching staff. We have some tremendous arms on this year’s team and we’re not afraid to go deep into our bullpen with a game on the line. We have 3-4 quality arms we can go to, while in the past we might have had only one or two we could count on.”

Sophomore righthander Keegan Yuhl (UC Irvine) and freshman righthander Brandon Brennan (Oregon), a pair of Division I transfers who have committed to New Mexico State and Houston, respectively, are the unquestioned aces of the Pirates starting staff. Yuhl (7-0, 1.27) ranks first in the state in wins, while Brennan (6-1, 1.43) is in a pack right behind him, but the staff as a whole has posted a 1.89 ERA and five different pitchers have contributed saves.

With a fastball that routinely touches the mid-90s, along with a mid-80s slider, the 6-foot-3, 195-pound Brennan has the best raw stuff on the team and is a candidate to be drafted in the first 10 rounds in June.

Offensively, the Pirates are no less potent as they boast the state’s leading hitter in freshman center fielder Boog Powell (.459-0-13), along with sophomore left fielder Chris Carlson (.439-3-32), who ranks No. 2 in hitting and No. 3 in RBIs, and freshman right fielder Bijan Rademacher (.297-4-31), who ranks among the state leaders in homers and RBIs. Like Yuhl, Carlson is a UC Irvine transfer in the process of re-routing to New Mexico State, while Rademacher, a Cal State Fullerton transfer, is weighing some significant Division I options.

The team’s best overall talent, meanwhile, catcher/third baseman Stefan Sabol (.290-1-7 in 10 games), has made only a marginal contribution to OCC’s success as he missed the first 15 games of the season nursing a broken hamate bone. He attended Oregon as a freshman before transferring back home, and will end up at Oklahoma State in 2013 if the draft doesn’t intercede. Like Brennan, he is considered a good bet to be plucked in the first 10 rounds.

Given all that talent, could Orange Coast not compete head-to-head with any junior-college program in the country, especially those that makes a regular trek to the Junior College World Series in Grand Junction, Colo.? Altobelli believes it could, though has never given it much thought because of the reality of the situation.

We have a unique situation here in California that might put us at a bit of a disadvantage in that we don’t offer scholarships and we can’t recruit players outside of our immediate geographic region,” Altobelli said. “But we’re fortunate, in our case, because we have so much talent here in Orange County to pick from.”

Besides the large talent pool locally to pull from, Altobelli also had a couple of other tricks up his sleeve a year ago when Brennan and Sabol were contemplating transferring from Oregon. J.J. Altobelli, John’s son, is a three-year starter for the Ducks and made a persuasive case for them to join his father’s team this season at Orange Coast.

They are from right here in our backyard, so we were very familiar with them in high school,” Altobelli said. “J.J. had a great relationship with both of them, and he helped talk up OCC when there were rumblings that they might be looking at a junior college.”

Altobelli also spent last summer as an assistant at Brewster of the Cape Cod League (son J.J. was the team’s shortstop), and while there made his final sales pitch to Sabol, who was playing for Cotuit, to join him this season at Orange Coast.

That recruiting edge could become even more pronounced in the future as Altobelli has since been named the head coach at Brewster. But he was quick to discount any potential advantage he might have in possibly luring other prospective future Orange Coast players with an opportunity to also play on the Cape, in the nation’s most prestigious summer college league.

To me, it’s 2-1/2 months of paid vacation,” he joked. “But the biggest advantage I get is it helps me to place my kids at the next level with all the contact I make with the big Division I schools while I’m there.”



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