2023 SCV playoff baseball preview 

Valencia teammates celebrates after Zach Andrews (3) hit a three run home run in the fourth inning against Hart at Hart High on Tuesday, 042523. Dan Watson/The Signal

The 2023 baseball season in the Santa Clarita Valley was flooded with headlines. 

Valencia knocked off Hart as league champs but it came down to the final game. In fact, there was the possibility of a four-way tie for the league title heading into the final week of play. 

Castaic enters the playoffs in just its second year of varsity with high hopes.  

Trinity capped off its second straight league championship, went undefeated in the Heritage League and enters the postseason on a 16-game win streak. 

West Ranch has played well all season behind a strong offense and a pair of Division 1-bound pitchers still in their junior seasons. 

Here’s everything you need to for playoff baseball in the SCV: 

Valencia hosts Westlake 

The Foothill League champs will open the postseason with the Westlake Warriors.  
The Vikes are riding high on an eight-game win streak, during which they have outscored opponents by over four runs, earning them a two-seed in the Division 3 bracket. 

Valencia third baseman Lance Mittelman finished the regular season batting .457 with 11 doubles. Vikings head coach Brad Meza believes in every single spot in his lineup, with five Vikes hitting over .300. The team will need to continue its hot streak against Andrew Habermann, a junior pitcher with a 1.77 ERA and 40 strikeouts. 

Senior pitcher Ricky Ojeda will likely start for Valencia. The UCI commit allowed just two earned runs this season while striking out 83 batters. Ojeda will have plenty of future fellow Division 1 players to battle with. Westlake’s offense possesses big bats in junior Dillon Marrisett, Tulane-bound Nate Johnson, Miami commit Nolan Johnson and future Arkansas Razorback Nate Franco. 

Two talented teams will duke it out in a tough opening-round matchup on Thursday at 3:15 p.m. at Valencia. 

West Ranch hosts Royal 

The Wildcats will prepare to host the Royal Highlanders in Division 2. The Highlanders will come to town for the second straight year but have put last year’s grand slam walk-off loss at Hart in their rear-view mirror.  

West Ranch has a strong lineup, with six starters hitting over .340. The group is led by junior Aiden Buntich, who is hitting .411 with 18 RBIs. 

The Wildcats struggled against Ojeda earlier in the year and now will have another UCI-bound pitcher to deal with in Royal’s Trevor Hansen. The ace finished the year with a 0.99 ERA and 83 strikeouts. 

West Ranch will not shy away from any challenge, especially with their own junior pitching duo of Ben Cushnie and Jackson Banuelos. The USC and CSUN commits, respectively, have kept their teams in every game this season and one of them will likely give Royal problems at the plate.  

West Ranch pitcher Ben Cushnie (12) throws a pitch in the second inning of a Foothill League game at Valencia High School on Friday, March 25, 2023. West Ranch won 8-1. Chris Torres/The Signal

West Ranch will hunt for its first playoff win in four years on Friday at 3:15 p.m. when the Cats host the Highlanders. 

Castaic to play Excelsior in WC game 

The Coyotes enter the playoffs as winners of nine of their last 10 games. Castaic has knocked off teams from nearly every division in CIF, which may pay dividends as the team heads into the Division 6 wildcard round. 

Castaic will host the Excelsior Charter Eagles of Victorville. The Eagles have some exceptional numbers, with five starters batting over .400, including senior Austin Tant, who heads into the playoffs batting .490. 

The Coyotes have a loaded team, led by Joji Sakata, Matt Airhart and Aaron Gonzalez at the plate. Kyler Freude and Tyler Hawn have also played double-duty for Castaic, shining on both the mound and in the batter’s box. 

Castaic infielder Joji Sakata (27) makes it to second base during a Foothill League game against Saugus at Saugus High School on Friday, April 21, 2023. Castaic won 4-2. Chris Torres/The Signal

Castaic finished the regular season ranked fifth by the CIF in Division 6 but a third-place league finish sends the Coyotes into the wildcard round. 

Excelsior heads to Castaic on Wednesday at 3:15 p.m. 

Hart heads to Notre Dame 

The Indians will open up with the toughest matchup of the local teams, a road test with the top-ranked Notre Dame Knights. 

Hart will likely face Texas commit Levi Sterling or UCLA commit Justin Lee. The future Longhorn led the team with a 0.43 ERA while Sterling posted a team-high 84 strikeouts. 

The Indians will have their own pitching advantages with Troy Cooper on the mound. The junior finished his season with a 1.15 ERA and 53 strikeouts. Seniors Chris Downs and Sean Elsee will be key in relief. 

Troy Cooper of Hart (12) pitches in the second game of a double-header against Castaic at Hart High on Friday, 033123. Dan Watson/The Signal

The Knights have battled through a brutal Mission League and exited relatively unscathed, with five batters hitting over .300. Adam Shlesinger leads the group with 27 hits for a .373 batting average. 

Hart shoots for the upset on the road at Notre Dame on Thursday at 3:15 p.m. 

Trinity awaits wildcard winner 

The Knights stormed through the Heritage League this season and finished the year 16-3 after an 0-3 start. 

Sophomores Noah Vizconti and John Carlson have been exceptional for Trinity this year. The two have had a pair of phenomenal seasons, combining for an 11-0 record in 21 starts with 121 strikeouts on the mound. The pitchers have also led the team at the plate with 24-hit seasons, where both finished right around .450.  

Trinity third baseman John Carlson snags a groundball against SCCS. Photo Courtesy of Trinity Athletics.

The team’s strengths don’t stop there as three other Knights also finished the year batting over .400. 

Trinity’s monumental season earned the group a matchup with a wildcard team. The Knights will await the winner of Desert Mirage and Costa Mesa on Wednesday. 

The winner of the wildcard battle heads to the SCV on Friday at 3:15 p.m. 

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