Foothill League baseball teams ready for D1 playoffs

Hart's Cody Jefferis (2) reaches for the ball as Valencia's Trace Eldridge slides into second base during a baseball game on April 13, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

Descriptions of the CIF-Southern Section Division 1 baseball playoffs make it sound like a monster-filled labyrinth.

West Ranch coach Casey Burrill called it a “beast.” Hart coach Jim Ozella called it a “gauntlet.”

The Wildcats, Indians and Valencia will call it home today and for as long as they can stay alive.

The Foothill League-champion Vikings are set to host Dos Pueblos of Goleta in the first round, while Hart and West Ranch will travel a combined 195 miles to take on a pair of league champions.

Here’s a look at each Foothill League baseball matchup today:

Dos Pueblos at Valencia, 3:15 p.m., today

Entering the final week of the regular season, Valencia coach Mike Killinger believed his team was playing better than it had been at the same time the year before.

It’d be hard to argue with him now. The Vikings swept two games from West Ranch to take the Foothill League title and earn a home game against the Channel League’s second-place team.

Overall, Valencia (23-7) has won nine of 10 and 14 of 16.

Dos Pueblos (18-9-1) is relatively hot too, though, having won five of six. The Chargers will look to be the second team in a row to come to Valencia in the first round and knock off the Vikings in the first round.

Last year, Valencia lost, 6-3, to El Dorado of Placentia, with Chase Farrell allowing six runs (four earned) over 5 1/3 innings.

Farrell has since developed into one of the area’s most dominant pitchers. He’ll likely get the ball again today.

West Ranch at El Dorado of Placentia, 3:15 p.m., today

The Wildcats (19-8) will send one of the most battle-tested playoff pitchers in the bracket to the mound today.

The standout lefty, Timmy Josten, is also coming off his worst outing of the year, a 12-hit, eight-run performance against Valencia last week.

“I think he is going to have to let that go and get himself ready,” Burrill said. “I don’t know too many pitchers in D1 baseball as battled tested in the playoffs as he is. From that standpoint, he carries a lot of experience into the playoffs. Maybe more than anybody.”

Last year, Josten pitched six innings in a first-round win over Mater Dei of Santa Ana and seven innings in a quarterfinal win over El Toro of Lake Forest, one of the top teams in the nation at the time.

El Dorado (18-8-1), champion of the Crestview League, boasts its own quality arms. Kyle Luckham and Austin Spinney have sub-two ERAs in 46-plus innings each.

Luckham, also one of the Golden Hawks’ best hitters, has offers from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and San Diego State, according to The Orange County Register.

“Each and every game in this bracket, whoever gets timely hitting and a break or two, and who plays good defense, will win themselves a ball game and advance,” Burrill said.

Hart at Vista Murrieta, 3:15 p.m., today

Hart coach Jim Ozella believes the Indians have the pedigree and the preparation necessary to meet a challenge like Division 1’s No. 5-ranked team.

“Our history at Hart has been rising to the occasion in situations like this,” he said. “So we’ll bank on history, again.”

The Indians (20-10) will also bank on what Ozella believes is one of the best non-league schedules any of his teams have faced, highlighted by games at Santiago of Corona and Redondo Union.

“We tested them,” Ozella said. “Sometimes we’ve passed the test; sometimes we haven’t. The most important thing is we tested them.”

Ozella will send righty Bryce Collins to the mound today. The junior missed part of last season and most of the offseason after injuring his back.

He’s improved with each outing in 2017, a trend Hart hopes continues today.

Collins (2.18 ERA in 51 1/3 innings) will look to slow a Vista Murrieta team (21-8) that’s won seven of its last eight games and earned the Southwestern League title.

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