High School : : General
Monday, February 21, 2011

No. 5 Bishop Amat sets sights high

Jeff Dahn        

This is the second of a 7-part series unveiling the 2011 Perfect GameNational High School Top 50 Rankings.

February 18: # 6-10

February 21: #5

February 22: #4

February 23: #3

February 24: #2

February 25: #1, entire top 50 list

No. 5 Bishop Amat (La Puenta, CA)

CIF Southern Section Division IV (Del Rey)

2010 Results: 27-4 (Del Rey Champions, lost in quarterfinals of playoffs)

Key Losses: LHP Paul Paez (San Diego); RHP Brandon McNitt (Stony Brook)

Top Players: 3B Rio Ruiz (USC); RHP Adrian Franco (San Diego State); C Bernardo Zavala (San Diego State)

Andy Nieto spent more than a decade on Mike Gillespie’s coaching staff at Southern California before becoming head baseball coach at Bishop Amat Memorial High School in La Puenta, Calif., four years ago.

Bishop Amat had already established a solid baseball tradition, and Nieto saw an opportunity to build on it. And with five standout seniors who will all play at the NCAA Division I level next year and one of the country’s top juniors in third baseman Rio Ruiz, Nieto feels the sky is the limit for his Lancers this season.

“We’re just trying to take it to a new level,” Nieto told Perfect Game last week. “I was fortunate to be on Mike Gillespie’s staff for so long, and I brought in a new system and they really bought into it and they’re really excited about it. We’re trying to make our guys complete, offensively and defensively.”

The Perfect Game No. 5-ranked Lancers plan to quickly show their form.

Bishop Amat has averaged 27 wins a season in the four years Nieto has headed the program and won California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Southern Section championships in his first two seasons. The Lancers finished 27-4 in 2010 after losing to Torrance High School in the CIF Southern Section Division IV quarterfinals.

Any conversation about the 2011 Bishop Amat team has to start with Ruiz. The 6-foot-1, 175-pound infielder is ranked No. 7 nationally and No. 3 in the state of California in Perfect Game’s top prospect rankings for the class of 2012, and has already committed to USC.

He is coming off a season in which he hit .524 with 4 home runs and 34 RBIs, and a PG scouting report from the 2011 California Underclass Showcase noted Ruiz “oozes ability everywhere on the diamond.”

“Rio is one of those guys that shows up somewhere around the country every 10 years,” Nieto said. “We’re fortunate to have him … and he has a chance to be a top-round guy. He’ll be our starting third baseman and he’ll hit third; we need him to be everything he’s supposed to be.”

Nieto will also need everything he can get from his seniors.

Right-hander/first baseman Adrian Franco, catcher Bernardo Zavala and outfielders Jordan McCraney, Jay Anderson and Wallace Gonzalez – all seniors – will be relied on heavily. Franco and Zavala have signed with San Diego State, Anderson is entertaining offers from USC, Arizona State, Cal State Fullerton and Oregon, and McCraney and Gonzalez also have options.

That’s quality senior leadership.

“The strength of our team this year – there’s no substitute for age or experience,” Nieto said. “Whether it’s little league, high school, college or the big leagues, there’s no substitute for age and experience. That has to be one of our strengths and will be one of our strengths.”

Gonzalez is a 6-foot-5, 240-pounder – “the guy’s a beast” in the words of Nieto – who is ranked 25th in California and 141st nationally in PG’s top prospect rankings for the class of 2011.

McCraney has been a starting outfielder for the Lancers for the past two seasons – he hit .333 with 3 home runs and 21 RBIs in 2010 – and the right-hander will also be called on to do a lot of pitching this spring.

Nieto takes pride in assembling a challenging schedule for his ballclub each year, and this season is no exception. The CIF Southern Section Division IV Lancers will once again play several Division I schools – including PG No. 9 Edison – and will compete in the National Classic, a 16-team tournament played at four Orange County venues that attracts many of the top teams from around the region.

“We play a super difficult schedule … and I think that’s what really helps prepare us and gain the kind of respect that we need to,” Nieto said. “That’s how you test yourself and ultimately really prepare for battling and competing for a CIF championship at the end of the year.”

Nieto firmly believes this is the year big things can happen, and he is adamant in his demands.

“We have to get a return on our investment with this group of seniors,” he said. “They’ve been together now for three years, pretty much starting since they were sophomores, and they need to really plant the flag. If everybody stays healthy, this team needs to play for a CIF championship, bottom line.

“It’s an exciting group and we’re excited to see how far they can go.”

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