If preseason is any indication of how the rest of the year will go, Ceres High's and Central Valley's varsity baseball programs have good reason to be excited.
The Bulldogs and Hawks had a combined record of 23-5-1 in non-league play.
Ceres High and Central Valley will aim for continued success during the 2013 Western Athletic Conference campaign.
"We have such a good core of kids coming back," Hawks head coach Greg Magni said. "This is the most-balanced group we've ever had. We're deeper. I got a lot of options. We feel like this team can get better. We're definitely excited."
"Experience gives you the edge every time," Bulldogs head coach John Bussard said.
Ceres High lost 9-1 to Sonora in the opening round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoffs, finished 18-11 overall and placed second in conference play (8-4) in 2012.
Veterans Jimbo Pernetti (Sr.), Haydon Turpin (Sr.), Brandon Arevalos (Sr.) and Devon Ruger (Sr.) will play big roles while trying to lead the Bulldogs to their third straight postseason appearance and first league title under Bussard's guidance.
Pernetti, a standout batter and shortstop, was selected WAC Most Valuable Player in a vote by the league's head coaches last season.
Jimbo led the conference in a number of offensive categories, including batting average (.556), homers (2), runs (17) and slugging percentage (.889). He ranked second in doubles (6), and third in RBIs (13) and on-base percentage (.550). Pernetti committed just three errors on defense.
"He knows he has a target on his back," Bussard said. "We'll see how he responds."
Arevalos and Ruger were both selected to the WAC First Team.
Brandon batted .500 with one homer, one triple, four doubles, 14 RBIs, eight runs and two steals. He started in right field.
Devon, Ceres High's first baseman, batted .429 with five doubles, 13 RBIs and seven runs.
Turpin, the Bulldogs' ace pitcher, earned second-team accolades. He compiled a 6-2 record with a 3.82 ERA and 41 strikeouts. Haydon batted .321 with three doubles, three RBIs and seven runs.
"We have no holes in our lineup," Bussard said. "Who are you going to pitch around? We feel we're deeper than everybody pitching-wise. But talk is cheap."
Central Valley had an outside chance at making the playoffs for the first time in program history a year ago.
The Hawks needed a win versus Patterson and a Los Banos loss to Livingston to secure the WAC's third and final postseason berth.
The Wolves did their part, rallying for a 4-3 victory.
Central Valley never threatened in losing 9-1 to Patterson.
The Hawks (12-14-1, 5-7) finished in a three-way tie for fourth place with Livingston and Los Banos. Central Valley lost twice to Ceres High.
"That's still in our memories," Magni said.
The Hawks return multiple contributors from 2012, including Ruben Casas (Sr.), Juan Plasencia (Sr.), Michael Ereso (Jr.), Jorge Alvarez (So.), Sidney Long (Sr.), Raul Godinez (Jr.) and Jeff Reeves (Sr.).
Casas, a fourth-year starter, earned first-team honors last season.
Ruben batted .278 with one triple, two doubles, five RBIs, nine runs and three steals.
He compiled a 1-3 record with a 2.55 ERA, one shutout, two complete games and 26 strikeouts.
"Ruben has always been a good player," Magni said.
"Obviously, we're expecting him to have a big year. Playing football helped him. His bat speed and arm strength are better. He's very dedicated. He's every coach's dream."
Plasencia batted .429 with one triple, six doubles, two RBIs and four runs.
Ereso batted .360 with three RBIs and five runs.
Alvarez batted .350 with two RBIs and three runs.
Long batted .250 with one RBIS and two runs.
Godinez batted .158 with one double, two RBIs and nine runs.
The top three programs in the seven-team WAC qualify for the postseason.
Ceres High and Central Valley both want to try to end Central Catholic's reign.
The Raiders, members of the WAC since 2007, have won six straight conference titles.
"It's a tough league from top to bottom," Magni said. "We can compete with anybody."
"We think we have every bit as much talent as Central Catholic," Bussard said. "They've done it. We haven't. The mental side of the game is huge."