Arroyo Seco Saints baseball

Andres Kim (St. Francis High) and his Arroyo Seco Saints Palomino baseball team are hoping to slide into another West Zone Tournament championship. (File Photo)

Hoping to win a third consecutive West Zone Tournament championship, the Arroyo Seco Saints 18U baseball team begins defense of its title in the Palomino Tournament hosted at the Urban Youth Academy in Compton on Friday.

The Pasadena-based baseball team, which includes seven locals and is led by former St. Francis High Coach Aaron Milam, gets going at 1:30 p.m. versus the San Jose PAL Giants (20-12-1) at the Academy’s smaller auxiliary field.

“I think this zone tournament is going to be one of the tougher zone tournaments we’ve ever been a part of,” Milam said. “You have the same two teams from Northern California back in the tournament and the Southern California teams are really tough too.”

Arroyo Seco (9-13-1) enters zone play as the No. 2 seed out of the SoCal Super Region #2 bracket after falling in the championship contest of that tournament, 7-4, in 10 innings to the OC Bolt in Pasadena on Monday.

“My concern is our pitching,” Milam said. “If our pitching holds up then we’re OK. If not, then we’re in trouble.

“The biggest problem is that we’re coming off an 11-inning win followed by a 10-inning loss and we used a lot pitchers.”

A victory Friday would vault the Saints into a 4:30 p.m. showdown Saturday at the showcase field versus either San Bernardino or the South Bay Legacy.

A first-round defeat in the double-elimination tournament would drop the Saints into the second-chance bracket at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday in the showcase field versus a team to be determined.

The tournament’s championship game is slated for 7 p.m. on Tuesday with the winner punching its ticket to the Palomino League Baseball World Series back at the Urban Youth Academy beginning July 31.

There are some similarities for this year’s Saints squad in comparison to the group last year that won the zone tournament and advanced to the World Series.

For starters, Arroyo Seco lost in the SoCal Super Region #2 championship game last year to the Colon Nighthawks, 10-5.

Last season, Arroyo Seco also opened against the PAL Giants, with the San Jose club winning the contest, 3-1.

A win on Friday would make the Saints’ path toward a zone title much easier than last year, when the club had to reel off four straight victories (including two over the Giants) to reach the championship and ultimately defeat the South Bay Legacy, 6-3.

The Saints will turn to ace Angel Lerma versus the Giants and will likely use No. 2 pitcher Joey Steele (St. Francis) on Saturday, regardless of the circumstances.

“That’s the simple portion of the tournament, where you throw your best against their best,” Milam said. “There it’s just about who hits, field and pitches better.

“Once you get into the third game of the tournament or if you lose that first game, then things change and you have to figure ways to outsmart the competition. Our strength the last couple of years is that our No. 3 pitcher has also always been better than the other guy’s.”

Milan’s team also includes St. Francis products Kevin Baker, Andres Kim, David Olmedo-Barrera and Marco Rivas and Glendale Community College’s Ryan Losman and Jordan Yrastorza.

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Follow Andrew J. Campa on Twitter: @campadresports.