Much has changed since the spring of 2019, but Long Beach Poly remains the defending Moore League baseball champions. The Jackrabbits have never won consecutive Moore League titles on the diamond (dating back to 1957-58), but will have the opportunity to make history this season. Fifth-year head coach Brent Lavoie believes that Poly has the talent and experience to make that happen in 2021.
“We’re feeling really good, and these guys think that a Moore League championship is definitely in sight,” Lavoie said. “Our 2020 group had a really good chance of doing something that had never been done before in Poly history; they were geared up to repeat and got off to a good start. The 2021 team returned a lot of those starters who have been the core of who we are the past couple years, and the expectations are a league title.”
The Jackrabbits return seven of their nine everyday starters from the 2020 squad and have a steady supply of upperclassmen with varsity experience. That advantage is personified by the left side of the infield, where seniors Troy Criss (pictured) and Edgar Rosales have both been holding down the first since their freshman seasons.
Criss is the starting shortstop and leadoff hitter for the Jackrabbits. The left-handed hitter is a tough out at the plate who will look to set the table for the rest of the Poly lineup. Rosales is one of those middle-of-the-order bats who has a team-high 14 RBIs through Poly’s first 10 games, but he also adds value with his glove. Defense is always at a premium in the Moore League, and with games being played exclusively on campus fields this season, it’s perhaps even more important to have a trusted defender at the hot corner.
Campus fields also come with bountiful outfield grass, and the Jackrabbits are happy to have senior Kenny Barnabee patrolling centerfield. Barnabee is a multi-sport athlete who is also a star on the soccer pitch and has been successfully pulling double duty while both sports overlap. Starting second baseman Lucas Scott is also a soccer player who excels on the diamond. The sophomore is off to a hot start to the season and has developed nicely after picking up some varsity experience as a freshman in 2020.
Pitching has proven to be paramount for any aspiring Moore League champion, and Poly will have some intriguing options on the bump this year. During the 2019 season, the Jackrabbits leaned heavily on senior ace Jesse Simon who threw 62.1 innings with a 1.24 ERA that year to lead Poly to the league title. While the 2021 Jackrabbits may not have that one true ace, Lavoie will be able to mix and match a few veterans who have some impressive performances under their belts.
Senior left-hander Liam Alpern will lead the staff and is expected to log the most innings on the mound for the Jackrabbits. He’s already put up some solid strikeout numbers with 17 K’s through his first 10 IP this season, including nine strikeouts over five innings in Poly’s 8-2 win at St. Anthony.
“At one point Liam was known as a soft-tossing, crafty lefty, and now that he’s put on a little size and strength he can throw the ball with a little velo, too,” said Lavoie of his starting southpaw. “He’s been pretty good for us. He’s definitely going to log a lot of innings, we have high expectations for him and he has high expectations for himself.”
Other arms supporting Alpern include senior righthander Elias Torres, who will also spend time at first base and DH while hitting in the middle of the batting order. Torres was tremendous in his first ever varsity start, leading the Jackrabbits to a 5-3 win over local powerhouse La Mirada. The senior tossed six innings allowing just two earned runs on five hits while throwing strikes and keeping the Matadores off balance. Torres is currently 3-0 on the season with a 1.77 ERA in 23.2 innings pitched.
Junior Ryan Skjonsby will also be part of the pitching rotation for Poly, while also providing a big lefty bat and playing first base. Senior catcher Bobby Ramirez has emerged as the starter behind the plate and the team captain will be tasked with handling the pitching staff.
“I think we’re a really scrappy bunch and we find ways to manufacture runs,” said Lavoie of his squad. “We’re pretty solid on the defensive end and we have the potential for the bats to do some damage as well. But it always starts on the mound, that’s where the game is won and lost, and I think we’re going to compete really well there.”
The Jackrabbits have looked the part during the non-league portion of their schedule, going 9-1 to start the season, and are riding an eight-game winning streak heading into Moore League play. Poly has scored seven or more runs on six different occasions this season and have also held their opponents to three runs or fewer in seven of their 10 contests. The Jackrabbits wrapped up their pre-league slate with a 5-3 win over Calabasas to claim the St. Paul Tournament championship.
The pieces are there for the Jackrabbits to make history with a second consecutive Moore League crown, and the long list of veterans should help them navigate the challenges of an unpredictable season. With such a competitive title race anticipated this year, it could be the intangibles that make the difference on the diamond.
“There’s one thing about this team, our chemistry is really good,” said Lavoie. “They genuinely like each other and pull for each other, and that translates on game day.”