NorCal/SoCal Players of the Week

Two of this week’s honorees are Janessa Jasso of Dos Palos and Cooper Benson of San Luis Obispo. Photos: Andrew Kuhn / Merced Sun-Star & Santa Maria Times.

For this second week in which baseball and softball players have taken over this feature from basketball, we have a player from San Luis Obispo County being chosen for the first time for Northern California. That’s because San Luis Obispo is now part of the CIF Central Section and all Central Section schools are NorCal for rankings/honors purposes. The Tigers’ player honored is simply one of the best in the state no matter where anyone is from and has led his team to 8-0 start. Our other three honorees are from Dos Palos, Temecula and San Bernardino.

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Note: For these honors, we consider CIF Central Section players for Northern California. To nominate someone by 12 noon on most Mondays, email

Cal-Hi Sports Northern California
Baseball Player of the Week

Cooper Benson
(San Luis Obispo) Sr.

Not only do we go to the CIF Central Section, which for us has always been part of what we consider Northern California for our Player of the Week features, but we land in San Luis Obispo. Before this year, SLO was part of the CIF Southern Section, which we couldn’t count as part of Northern California, but this is where we land this week and Cooper, our NorCal baseball honoree, has been super to say the least.

Between a combination of his pitching and hitting, the Tigers have clawed their way to a 9-0 record and a spot on the bubble of the most recent State Top 20 rankings.

Last week, in a 10-1 win over Righetti of nearby Santa Maria, the 6-foot, 180-pound left-handed pitcher went five innings and gave up an unearned run and two hits with eight strikeouts and two walks, plus all the runs Benson would need came off his own bat as he blasted a three-run home run.

Two weeks ago against St. Joseph of Santa Maria, he went all seven innings of a 2-0 victory and gave up three hits and a walk but he fanned 11 batters.

So far this season, Benson, who has committed to Arizona State but could be driving a Bentley if he’s chosen high enough in the MLB Draft, is 3-0 with a save, a 0.00 ERA, an opposing batters average of .103, and he’s only given up six hits and five walks with 30 strikeouts in 17 innings pitched. He’s done it with an assortment of pitches and according to his Perfect Game profile a fastball that tops out at 90-miles per hour, and that’s some heat for a high school left-hander.

With bat in hand, Benson, who plays centerfield when he’s not on the mound, is hitting .433 with the one round tripper, two doubles, 14 RBI and seven runs scored, plus he has six stolen bases in six attempts.

We’re sure Cooper also would like a shoutout to teammate Wills Guy, who went 5-for-5 with a double and three runs scored in the win against Righetti.

Great Oak’s Zach Arnold is about to sign letter of intent with University of Oregon. Photo:

Cal-Hi Sports Southern California
Baseball Player of the Week

Zach Arnold
(Great Oak, Temecula) Sr.

For our Southern California baseball honoree this week, we go to the far southeastern portion of the Inland Empire close to where Riverside and San Diego Counties meet. It’s there that we find a slugging shortstop who’s been tearing the cover off the baseball with a blisteringly hot bat.

Last week, Zach was really on the attack. In a doubleheader against Norco that produced 9-1 and 6-3 victories, the 6-foot-2, 175-pound Oregon-committed Arnold hit a home run with two RBI in the first game, and he walked and scored a second run. In the second half of the twin bill, Zach hacked out a double as part of a 3 for 3 effort, walked, drove in two runs and scored twice.

In late February against San Pasqual of Escondido, he homered twice, had four RBI and scored three times.

So far this season for the 8-1-1 Wolfpack, Zach is hitting .581 with 18 hits in 37 at-bats, he has the three long bombs, two triples, two doubles, 12 RBI and 13 runs scored. He has a 1.064 slugging percentage and 1.687 OBS percentage. Arnold also has five stolen bases and in 30 chances at shortstop he has only one error.

Cal-Hi Sports Northern California
Softball Player of the Week

Janessa Jasso
(Dos Palos) Sr.

Whenever we uncover a jewel that comes from a town not easily recognizable to the big city folks, we try to give our readers a little knowledge about the community.

This week, for our Northern California softball award winner, we go to the CIF Central Section and smack dab to the heart of the San Joaquin Valley 10 miles east of I-5 on Highway 33 and about 25 miles southwest of Merced.

The name of the town Dos Palos or “two sticks or large trees” in Spanish was named after two large poplar trees spotted by the town’s discoverer, and while our softball honoree does pretty well with the big stick in her hands, it’s mowing them down from the circle where she shows the most prowess.

This feature is a weekly award but for Jasso you can pick any game in the three weeks since the season started because the team is a perfect 7-0 with Janessa in the circle every time. Along the way she’s started the season with a 0.32 ERA and 92 strikeouts in 43.2 innings pitched. The strikeouts are the early No. 4 reported total in the state.

Talk about starting with a bang. In her first outing, the Iowa State-committed Jasso did give up five walks but the rest of the batters she faced she struck out to give her 21 in a 5-0 victory over Mission Prep of San Luis Obispo. Since then, she hasn’t stopped and has had double-digit strikeouts in every game.

Last week, in 6-1 wins over both Kerman and Exeter, she had a one-hitter with 13 strikeouts, a walk and the run was unearned against Kerman. In the Exeter, win Jessica gave up one of the two earned runs on her record so far this season, but it was a two-hitter with two walks.

With Palos in hand, Jasso had a double and an RBI against Kerman, and in the Exeter win she was 2 for 2 with two doubles, two RBI and two runs batted in. So far this season, she’s hitting .391 with two triples, three doubles and five RBI, and while she strikes out a lot of batters from the circle, in the batter’s box Jessica hasn’t fanned once in 23 at-bats.

Castillo delivers a pitch during one of last week’s games. Photo: @AquinasAthSB.

Cal-Hi Sports Southern California
Softball Player of the Week

Reina Castillo
(Aquinas, San Bernardino) Soph.

The Inland Empire hits the Daily Double by capturing both the baseball award and now with Castillo taking home this week’s SoCal softball honor makes it a sweep.

There are always some big numbers in softball but the numbers Castillo and the Falcons have put up are off the charts in what has been an 11-0 start for the team, with all 11 games mercy-shortened, and an 11-0 pitching record for Reina. With bat in hand she’s just as hot in the batter’s box as she is in the circle.

Last week, in four games, a 10-0 victory over Woodcrest Christian of Riverside, a 13-0 win against Virgin Valley of Mesquite (Nevada), a 14-0 victory over Legacy of North Las Vegas (Nevada), and a 12-0 victory over Virgin Valley, Castillo put up the kind of numbers that should she continue to do could someday get her in the Cal-Hi Sports Record Book like a lot of other past players from Aquinas.

Against Woodcrest Christian, Reina was 2 for 3 with two home runs, three RBI and three runs scored. From the circle she had a three-hitter with five strikeouts. In the first Virgin Valley game she went 3 for 3 with two doubles and four RBI, and as pitcher Castillo tossed a two-hitter with nine strikeouts. Against Legacy, she had another two-hitter with eight fanned and at the plate she was 3 for 4 with a home run and three driven in. And finally in the second Virgin Valley game, she was 2 for 2 with three RBI, and from the circle she punctuated the week with a 5-inning perfect game with nine strikeouts.

So far this season, and not including stats from a 10-0 road win on Monday at Western Christian of Upland, Castillo is hitting .727 with five home runs, a triple, seven doubles, and 30 RBI which makes her the reported leader in the state. As a pitcher in 10 games where stats were available, Reina has won them all with a 0.15 ERA, and 79 strikeouts with only 12 hits and five walks in 46 innings pitched.

Last year as a freshman, Castillo batted .429 with 41 runs batted in, plus as a pitcher she was 5-1 with a 0.87 ERA and 78 strikeouts with only 10 walks in 64.2 innings pitched.

Like was mentioned previously, if Castillo keeps putting up these kind of number the rest of this season and in her junior and senior years, she could be bound for more than one state record book listing.

Harold Abend is the associate editor of and the vice president of the California Prep Sportswriters Association. He can be reached at Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @HaroldAbend

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