By Justin Vigil-Zuniga
Signal Sports Writer
One of the most exciting years for baseball in the Santa Clarita Valley concluded last week. The week alone had some wild headlines with tensions and stakes at their highest.
Hart and Valencia went to extra innings to decide a league champion, Saugus and Castaic met for a tie-breaker game to decide who would go to playoffs and Trinity’s Brandon Ewing threw a perfect game to seal the program’s first league championship.
Five teams will now represent the Santa Clarita Valley all in separate brackets in the CIF playoffs.
Hart hosts Royal
Just like in softball, Hart will be the only Foothill League team to host an opening round game as they welcome the Royal Highlanders from Simi Valley.
Both teams have impressive pitching and Hart is hot off winning a high stakes pitcher’s duel with Valencia. The Indians’ pitching staff of Ethan Rhodes, Chris Downs, Aaron Silverman, Troy Cooper and Mike Rogozik have pitched strong innings this year.
Head coach Jim Ozella will have plenty of options heading into the postseason and will count on his defense to extend his pitchers’ arms.
The Highlander starter could be one of two big arms in that of Trevor Hansen and Matt O’Brien. Hansen leads the team with 93 strikeouts and holds a 2.15 ERA, while O’Brien allows less hits and leads the team with a 1.44 ERA.
The Foothill League champs have plenty of power at the plate and will need everything, in potentially an intense low-scoring game. Ozella will rely on Matt Quintanar, Reagan Meyer, Ryan Egan and Ryan De La Maza to barrel balls and get on base.
The Highlanders take the field against Hart on Thursday at 3:30 p.m.
Valencia makes the trip to Schurr
The Vikings fell just short of a league title last week after finishing fourth last season. Their return to the playoffs starts in Montebello with a matchup with the Almont League champion Schurr Spartans (18-6, 13-2).
Schurr has won 11 of its last 12 and will look to continue their streak against Valencia.
The Vikings have proven to be one of the better hitting teams in the Foothill League but will be without one of their best as an injury will sideline Kaden Shields for the rest of his season.
However, Valencia has shown their depth in both hitting and pitching. Big arms like Mat Chapman, Tyler Biggs, Matt Sherwood and Ricky Ojeda have been throwing well as of late.
Solid at-bats from hitters: Scotty Pieper, Jose Mariano, Lance Mittelman and Asher Frye will be crucial for Valencia. The team can run up the score in a hurry but also knows how to win tight games.
The Vikings take on the Spartans Thursday at 3:15 p.m.
Saugus rolling, heads to Woodbridge
No one is coming out of the Foothill League hotter than Saugus. The Centurions are winners of five straight and eight of their last nine. The team has been in playoff mode for weeks now as they’ve fought to keep their season alive since early April.
Saugus has depth in the pitching staff creating plenty of options for head coach Carl Grissom heading into his third straight playoff appearance. Woodbridge doesn’t have too many hitters batting over .300, gifting a little extra hope for pitchers like Carson Knapp, Connor Bates or Paul Galaviz.
The 18-senior team will need its juniors to keep up their hitting to keep the win streak alive. Zach Plasschaert and Erik Polanco have played a big part of the team on offense and defense. The senior bats of Carson Panarisi, Michael DeSantiago and Colin Yeaman. Yeaman is on a three-game hit streak while DeSantiago has three multi-hit games in his last five outings.
Saugus heads to Irvine to face Woodbridge on Friday at 3:15 p.m.
West Ranch gets huge road test at JSerra
The Wildcats will have one of the hardest hills to climb in front of them in the Division 1 playoffs. Their first opponent will be the third ranked team in the Southern Section, JSerra (18-10, 9-6). West Ranch has played a ton of high level baseball this year and competed in, if not won every game.
The Wildcats are loaded with weapons at the plate, and their tough non-league schedule takeaways may finally come to fruition as they take on the Lions.
West Ranch will be relying on Jake Callahan, Logan Mandel, Blake Schroeder and DJ Tsukashima to keep the offense rolling in their high stakes game.
The Cats pitching has also been throwing exceptionally lately. West Ranch may throw in numerous starters to keep JSerra guessing. Starters Jackson Banuelos or Jake Schwartz may both get some innings of work. Then, with strong arms in relief from Caden Deck and Michael Taylor, West Ranch may have the weapons to steal this game.
JSerra finished second in the Trinity League, arguably the best league in the Southern Section. The Lions are loaded with NCAA-bound talent as the Cats look to spoil their opponents’ senior seasons early.
“If we can be great on defense with a couple of timely hits, we can go down there and shock the world,” said Wildcats head coach Ryan Lindgreen.
West Ranch makes the trip to San Juan Capistrano to face JSerra on Friday at 3:15 p.m.
Trinity welcomes Rio Hondo
The Heritage League champs earned themselves a playoff home opener, welcoming their first opponent in the Rio Hondo Kares.
Trinity is hot off a perfect game from pitcher Brandon Ewing. The Knights bats have also been great with a plethora of multi-hit games recently, leading to a combined 47 runs scored in their last three games.
“The team is playing its best baseball right now,” said Trinity head coach Trevor Brown. “We have played consistent baseball all year and we feel completely prepared to make a run during playoffs.”
The former big-leaguer will enter his first CIF playoffs as a coach. Brown will need the same consistency from his batters: Rocco Izzo, Brandon Chase, Noah Visconti and John Carlson. Chase and Izzo lead the team, each batting over a staggering .440 on the year.
As for pitching, perfect game aside, the team is thankful to have Ewing back just in time for the postseason. He’ll rejoin the pitching staff of: Landon Williams, Chase and Carlson.
“To make a deep run during playoffs our starting pitching will need to continue to be efficient,” said Brown. “Attacking hitters and forcing our opponents to out swing us.”
Trinity takes the field against the Kares Thursday at 3:30 at the Hart baseball complex.
FOOTHILL LEAGUE FINAL STANDINGS
1. Hart (19-9, 11-1)
T-2. Valencia (15-11, 9-3)
T-2. West Ranch (15-13, 9-3)
4. Saugus (13-5, 6-7)
5. Castaic (9-16, 5-8)
6. Canyon (9-14-1, 2-10)
7. Golden Valley (7-18, 1-11)
HERITAGE LEAGUE FINAL STANDINGS
- Trinity Classical (19-6, 13-1)
- Vasquez (16-5-1, 12-2)
- Desert Christian (15-7, 10-4)
- Faith Baptist (8-7, 8-7)
- St. Monica (6-8, 6-8)
- SCCS (4-12, 4-10)
- Lancaster Baptist (8-11, 4-10)
- Valley Torah (0-14, 0-14)