Imperial Valley high school baseball has had its share of league and CIF championship teams over the years, but has there ever been a team so good it could be considered the Valley’s best ever?
I would propose that the 1988 Central Spartans is just that team.
The team would have six players go on to play college baseball, two play in the minor leagues and four who would become varsity baseball head coaches.
Third baseman Pedro Carranza was the league MVP and led the league in homeruns (6) while batting .457. Following high school Carranza played at Azusa Pacific, where he earned All-American honors his senior season. He would sign professionally with the Colorado Rockies in 1993 and played three years in their farm system. Carranza returned to the Valley in 2000 to become head baseball coach at Brawley Union High School, a position he has held ever since.
Center fielder Gene Martin led the league in steals (34) and batting average (.477) to go along with four homeruns. Martin would play one season at IVC before being drafted by the Atlanta Braves, playing two seasons in their minor league. Ironically, Martin would replace Middleton after he gave up coaching in 2004.
James Davis played catcher and hit .283 that season, but Middleton credited Davis for his handling of the pitching staff as his greatest contribution. Davis would go on to play at San Diego State, but as a pitcher. Davis has been the baseball coach at Granite Hills High School since 2001 and has a CIF championship (2007) to his name.
David Garcia (.350) played first base and had the unique distinction of never striking out during the regular season.
Second base was held down by Brad Evangelist (.400), whom Middleton claimed could have played baseball at the collegiate level, but instead accepted a scholarship to play football at Army.
Chris Acosta played shortstop (.276) and, according to Middleton, was one of the best defensive shortstops to play in the Valley. Acosta would continue his baseball career at the University of Redlands.
Left fielder Mickey McShan, who was most noted for his football talent, also contributed on the diamond, hitting .296 with four homeruns. McShan would earn a scholarship to play football at Washington State.
Right field was patrolled by Ishmael Sanchez (.333), who would continue his baseball career at Azusa Pacific and then play several years in the Mexican baseball league.
Ronnie Castillo (.317) was the team’s fourth outfielder and served as designated hitter. Castillo would go on to become the starting quarterback at Mesa State Colorado University.
The ‘88 Spartans employed one of the deepest pitching staffs of Middleton’s career, surrendering a .185 batting average to opponents.
David Rice was the staff ace, going 7-0 with an outstanding ERA of 0.78 on the season.
Bryan Thomason (5-3, 3.36) was the workhorse of the staff, logging the most innings pitched on the season. Thomason would earn a spot in the starting rotation at UCSD following high school. Before becoming a school administrator, Thomason coached the Holtville Vikings baseball squad from 1996 to 1998.
David Ochoa (5-1, 2.77) was the third starter and Cesar Bermudez (1-0, 1.62) was used in middle relief.
Craig Lyon (3-1, 2.59) earned the nickname “Iceman” for his role as the team’s closer. Lyon was used by Middleton to close out games and responded with four saves in ‘88. Lyon would pitch collegiately for Point Loma Nazarene University.
The ‘88 Spartans rolled through league play, losing only one game to Brawley. The Spartans can be forgiven, considering their 5-4 loss came at the hands of Wildcat pitcher Steve Whitehead, who would be drafted that year by the Montreal Expos.
The club won the first two rounds of CIF play-off competition, defeating El Cajon, 4-1, and Irvine, 6-1, before losing in the quarter-finals to Chino, 10-0.
While the ‘88 Spartans may not have won a CIF championship, no other high school baseball team can match their overall talent, which earns them the designation of the Valley’s best ever.