After a one-week hiatus I’m back and just in time for some tournament action. There are a several tournaments underway already this week that feature some of the top teams not only in the SoCal region but also teams from out of state.
Locally, the National Classic is getting back to its national roots with seven teams from out of state. In Florida, Harvard Westlake is participating in the IMG Academy National Classic where the Wolverines are the defending champs. In Vegas, local teams like Banning and Chatsworth are participating in the Blazer Spring Bash.
Before we look ahead, let’s look back at the wild week that was.
Trinity League Madness
Many people felt Servite had finally arrived with the start the Friars got off too. And while Coach Gilbert’s club still has a lot to play for, they ran in to a buzz saw last week against Mater Dei. The Monarchs pulled off the sweep against a Top 5 Servite winning two one-run games and the third by two. Mater Dei is getting it done with excellent pitching led by senior University of Washington signee, Jonathan Schiffer who is a perfect 4-0 with a 1.77 ERA. For good measure, the future Husky is hitting .404 on the season.
If you know Don Barbara of St. John Bosco, you know that you always know where you stand with him. The same can be said for his baseball team. So when Barbara told me last year that he felt his Braves were a year away from being really good, I didn’t doubt him. Two weeks into Trinity League play and he’s proven himself prophetic. The Braves took two-of-three from Mater Dei before sweeping Orange Lutheran last week. Sophomore David Hays (.471) and junior Kameron Ojeda (.444), both future high round draft picks, lead an offense that has no holes in it 1 through 9. Then there’s the pitching rotation that sports a 1.29 ERA led by Johnny Kuhn’s 4-0 0.46 record. Read that again, not a typo.
JSerra appears to be hitting their stride after starting their season a little later than most teams. The Lions won their first series against Santa Margarita and are beginning to show they’re a team with more than just one big-time prospect. After playing in the National Classic and the Boras Classic, the Lions have series with Mater Dei, Orange Lutheran, and close out the season against St. John Bosco. Those nine games will make-or-break the Lions season.
Corona del Mar
The Sea Kings are playing some great baseball right now as evidenced by their two victories over league favorite Beckman last week. CdM is loaded with talent and its a trio of juniors – JT Schwartz, Preston Hartsell, and Garin Friedman – and senior Conor Buchanan leading the way. The four hitters are all batting over .400 on the season. Sophomore Tommy Wilcox and Junior Chaz Martinez give CdM a pair of aces that set them up well for the postseason. Dylan Heckle and Nolan Dunn provide quality depth in the rotation.
Two big series – Woodbridge and Northwood – await, get past those and the Sea Kings can expect a high seeding come playoff time.
The Mats are off to a great start at 14-2 under third-year head coach, Jimmy Zurn and this may be his best roster yet. I wrote about them a few weeks back but with their only losses coming to two good teams that should be in the playoff hunt (Aliso Niguel, Los Al), I wanted to note the way they’re winning games. La Mirada eight wins of two runs or fewer proving they have a knack for winning the close ones. Their other six wins are by five runs or more proving they can get up on teams and stay there.
The Mats will face their toughest tests next week as they participate in the Boras Classic for the first time. This is an incredible honor for a program not many people consider to be one of the tops in the area. But if you look at their fall and winter schedule of recent years – and the results of those games – you’ll know they are just that, one of top teams in the area.
This league has been dominated the last couple years by Sage Hill and Crean Lutheran but this year there’s another team looking to stake its claim on the league title. St. Margarets improved to 5-0 with a win over Oxford Academy, and if they can win again on Thursday they’ll control their own destiny as they’ll face off against the leagues aforementioned top dogs in back-to-back weeks.
Scott Wallis has his team rolling right now, and while the Academy League isn’t one of the better known top leagues in the area, the league is producing baseball – some of it Division I level – on an annual basis. With Sage Hill having won a CIF Championship last year, this league deserves a little more respect.
Desert Valley League
The desert region is annually one of SoCal’s prime areas for prospects and has one of the best baseball leagues nobody talks about. The Desert Valley league, home of powerhouse programs like Palm Desert and La Quinta, is once again as competitive as ever with two games in the loss column separating the top three teams.
Palm Desert has righthanded pitcher Jeremiah Estrada, who many consider a high round draft pick in 2017, and for good measure he’s hitting over .350 on the season. The Aztecs sit atop the league standings with a big two-game week against second place Shadow Hills looming the last week of the season.
The Desert Valley league is always a two-bid league for playoffs, but with the restructuring done by CIF you can expect one or two others to get in as well.
The National Classic
There’s been a recent emphasis on behalf of tournament coordinators to get back to its national roots and with 7 of its 16 teams coming from out of state, I’d say mission accomplished. Add to that two of the top teams from the Fresno area and this tournament has put itself back at the top of quality tournaments in the country.
Matt Lucas of El Dorado serves as a tournament coordinator and has busted his butt in an effort to bring this tournament back to the prestige and caliber event that it once was. In my opinion, Lucas hit the nail on the head this year with the roster of teams.
Florida, Georgia, and Texas get it right. Their high school baseball championships are decided not by a single game, but by a series of them. At the highest levels, Georgia plays a best-of-three series in both the semis and finals. The same holds true in Florida and Texas.
For us in California this seems like a dream. And that’s because in California, a place many consider the best region for high school baseball, a champion is crowned with a single-elimination playoff bracket. It seems unfair, and if you ask any number of coaches, they’d agree.
There’s a simple solution, in my opinion. While playing in Dodgers Stadium is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for most players, moving the finals to Blair Field would allow for a best-of-three series.
You see, the official start of the season can be moved up a few days – most teams are already playing winter ball games and practicing anyway – and even move to a three-game week like a few leagues have already done. This would cut off several days on the back end of the season.
Additionally, instead of beginning the playoffs on Thursday/Friday, begin them on Monday/Tuesday and you can get two games in that first week. What this does is allow for the finals to be a best-of-three series the final week of the season.
Imagine a packed Blair Field for a winner-take-all championship game in early June. The late sunset setting on Recreation Park golf course behind the left field wall; the slight ocean breeze coming in around the scoreboard; the smell of hot dogs wafting through the stands. Sounds dreamy, doesn’t it?
Unfortunately for high school baseball fans in SoCal, it is.
Until next time…see you at the ballpark.
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