The first three teams have begun 1-0, but schools outside of the CIF Southern Section haven’t started yet for the 2022 season. Call these preseason or the first ones, but for our state rankings (that have been done every season for nearly 40 years) they will serve as a starting point. Harvard-Westlake, Orange Lutheran & JSerra are those 1-0 teams and they all have big games early this week as well
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Sacramento High will continue to be the reigning CIF state baseball champion since 1922, but this year’s NorCal & SoCal regional championships should determine a more true final No. 1 team than in any other season.
Both CIF playoffs were slated to begin last spring, but the NorCal championships were not held because of COVID. There were baseball playoffs in the CIF Central Coast Section, but there were none in the other CIF sections in the north. In the south, regional playoffs were held but because the section playoffs were delayed almost one month later than usual there were many teams that opted out, including CIF Southern Section champions Harvard-Westlake and Thousand Oaks.
With the best CIF Southern Section teams now all more bunched together in Division I, one of the biggest questions of the season will be about whether the highest ranked championship team from the CIF Central Section will go to the north or the south for the regional playoffs.
Under the current guidelines, all it says is that four teams from the Central Section will be placed in the north and four in the south. It doesn’t say which four go where so there is flexibility. Late playoff upsets in any section could impact that choice in both the north and south.
There were games being played this weekend in a few places around the state, but we wanted to get these done as a starting point.
STATE TOP 25 RANKINGS
(Listed with record from 2021)
(Games played Saturday, Feb. 12 are noted where applicable)
1. Harvard-Westlake (Studio City) 29-4
In the final rankings from 2021, the Wolverines placed second behind Thousand Oaks, which ended 29-1. With that team hit hard by graduation, a Harvard-Westlake club that was No. 2 goes to the top to begin this spring. The team played on Saturday and survived an upset bid by No. 21 Foothill of Tustin, 5-4. Tommy Bridges, a highly touted sophomore, picked up the pitching win. The team’s even more highly touted sophomore, Bryce Rainer (the State Freshman Player of the Year), also is among a strong group of returnees. Mission League Player of the Year Toussaint Bythewood, an outfielder headed to UCLA, is another leading returnee. Harvard-Westlake is taking on No. 5 Yucaipa on Tuesday in the PBR Tournament.
2. Lutheran (Orange) 30-6
Head coach Eric Borba has a great mix of returning players in both the pitching staff and throughout the lineup. P Louis Gonzalez is the leader on the mound and is headed to TCU. Mikey Romero (INF) is one of the state’s top prospects at his position while OF Derek Curiel is one of the state’s top sophomores period. Senior C Karson Bowen also has signed with TCU. On Saturday, OLu got going with a 2-1 triumph vs Gahr of Cerritos. The team is playing No. 11 Ayala this week.
3. JSerra (SJ Capistrano) 30-7
The Lions also began on Saturday and cruised past Redondo Union of Redondo Beach, 7-1. New pitchers will need to step up due to graduation losses, but the depth in the program is just about second-to-none. All-State Underclass 1B/P David Horn is headed to Vanderbilt. A sophomore 3B with a lot of buzz is Matt Champion, who has committed to LSU. The Lions face No. 15 Corona on Tuesday.
4. De La Salle (Concord) 20-4
As far as 1-2 pitchers go, you can’t get much better than what the Spartans will have this season with Cal Randall and Elias Gennis. Randall, still just a junior, has committed to UCLA. Gennis, a senior, has signed with Rice. Both pitchers have racked up lots of strikeouts in showcase events. The DLS offense will include returning all-state C Anthony Martinez.
5. Yucaipa 21-10
A winner on Saturday in the first game, 4-0, vs Mira Costa of Manhattan Beach, the Thunderbirds will play No. 1 Harvard-Westlake on Tuesday. If there was more of a track record of success like some others in the CIFSS, they might have started at the top. INF Jacob Reimer (Washington), who also is one of the top 2022 MLB Draft prospects, leads the group. Others include senior P Carter Herrera (Cal State Fullerton) plus junior P Owen Egan (UCLA), junior P Carter Elliot (Arizona State), sophomore OF Wes Hickey (Washington) and sophomore INF Daniel Arambula (LSU).
6. Huntington Beach 24-5
Big-time high school baseball in Orange County isn’t limited to the Trinity League. The Oilers are always ready to take on anyone and will play Orange Lutheran later this week. The team’s No. 1 returnee is junior catcher Ralph Velasquez, who is shown on numerous top national recruiting lists.
7. Buchanan (Clovis) 29-3
The Bears already were going to be loaded, but it looks like Clovis North transfer Hunter Jansen is going to be yet another impressive bat in the order. INF Drew Smith (Oregon), INF J.P. Acosta (Long Beach State) and INF Jett Ruby (Fresno State) are among the returnees. Watching P/OF Jayden Mandel play quarterback in football also showed what a great athlete that he can be. Buchanan played twice on Saturday vs West Ranch of Valencia and won both games.
8. Elk Grove 23-4
This was the top-ranked team in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section last year, but didn’t get playoffs to prove it even more. Most of the leading players are back, including C Noah Canter (.385, led in hits); INF Ryan Zamora (led in RBI with 27); and P A.J. Hutcheson (7-0, 0.45).
9. Notre Dame (Sherman Oaks) 21-9
Junior OF Dean West, who already has committed to UCLA, is among a more than solid cast of regulars from last season who figure to help the Knights a big contender to No. 1 Harvard-Westlake in the Mission League. Leading home run hitter Jack Gurevitch along with INF Anthony Reveles and P Zack Romero are other honors candidates. Notre Dame defeated St. Bonaventure of Ventura in its first game last Saturday.
10. Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth) 22-4
This is the preseason top team from the CIFSS that is D2 and won’t be D1 for the playoffs. The Trailblazers, however, may have as potent as a 1-2 pitching combo as any of those D1 teams. They also will play a schedule that will enable them to be ranked even higher than 10th in the state if they do well. Jaden Noot (Oregon) and Kassius Thomas (Duke) are those pitchers and both get well above 90 mph when they’re going strong.
11. Ayala (Chino Hills) 26-4
The Bulldogs already have a good win with a 9-0 victory in the first game vs bubble team Capistrano Valley of Mission Viejo. They also are facing No. 2 Orange Lutheran on Tuesday. There are some grad losses to overcome (especially four-year standout Cole Koniarsky & 11-win pitcher Thomas Cerecedes), but there’s also a lot back. Topping that list is INF Ty Borgogno and P Andres Pasillas.
12. Santa Margarita (Rancho SM) 17-13
Head coach Chris Malec’s club has received some national attention (No. 20 Collegiate Baseball), but in Orange County was behind both Servite and Cypress. We went with the Eagles more on the high side. Their leading players from among a strong group are P Jack Svinth (Stanford) and INF Blake Wilson (Washington).
13. San Marcos 24-6-1
The CIF San Diego Section lacks a consensus No. 1, but the Knights seem like a good group to start out with. They were No. 15 in last year’s final state rankings and will again be led by all-state INF Ryan Rivera. He batted .473 with 12 homers and 37 RBI as a junior. Holden Carpenter also led the team in innings pitched.
14. Valley Christian (San Jose) 24-9
Both the Warriors and their West Catholic Athletic League rivals from Archbishop Mitty of San Jose were looked at as the teams to start out No. 1 from the CIF Central Coast Section. Both have solid returning players, but with four straight CCS titles (with no playoffs in 2020) it’s hard not to go with the defending champs. Several underclassmen played starring roles in the 2021 playoffs — especially slugger Easton Kreshel (home runs in final two games) and pitchers Jacob Hudson and Michael Casteneda.
15. Corona 21-9
Ethan Schiefebein was one of the top ninth graders in the state last spring and comes back to the Panthers as one of the best returning pitchers regardless of class. Corona also has additional returning strength at catcher (Josh Springer) and in the infield (especially Andrew Walters).
16. California (San Ramon) 18-6
The Grizzlies gave De La Salle all it could handle last spring in the powerful East Bay Athletic League and should be up there again. LSU-bound Nic Bronzini is a big-time ace and hits with power. OF Raoul Fabian is headed to Long Beach State and hit .443 with 28 runs scored. Junior C/OF Aidan Camberg is another to watch.
17. Bullard (Fresno) 24-5-1
Fresno State-bound Cam Schneider was considered the Central Section Player of the Year by many last year (pitching & hitting) and returns to the Knights this spring. But Schneider might not be the most talented even at Bullard. Head coach Tom Donald has another highly-ranked player to work with in sophomore INF Beckett Zavorek. He recently changed his commitment from Stanford to Arizona.
18. Servite (Anaheim) 13-15
Expectations are high for the Friars, but this is about as high as we’ll go in the preseason for a team that had a losing record from the previous season. They’ll just need to prove it on the field. Servite counts three commits for UCLA alone. They are OF Jarrons Hocking, P Chris Grothues and junior INF/P Roman Martin.
19. Archbishop Mitty (San Jose) 24-5
Both the Monarchs and their West Catholic Athletic League rivals from Valley Christian of San Jose were looked at as the teams to start out No. 1 from the CIF Central Coast Section. While VC has the streak of CCS titles going strong, Mitty just has a bit too much back. Tristan Fox should be among the top pitchers in Northern California. Junior INF Jarren Adrincula is another top returnee.
20. Clayton Valley (Concord) 18-8
Junior catcher Ryder Helfrick already is a top 25 prospect for the 2023 MLB Draft and there are other top players back for the Ugly Eagles. One of the others is Ryder’s older brother, Leighton, an outfielder who has signed with UC Davis.
21. Foothill (Tustin) 21-7
The Knights have already played a game and lost, but maybe they should be higher-ranked since the loss was 5-4 to No. 1 Harvard-Westlake. Their two leading players from 2021 are back — OF Austin Overn (USC) and OF/P Aiden Taurek. Overn just got done playing football and was named to the All-Orange County first team as a wide receiver.
22. Woodcreek (Roseville) 22-4
We’ll go with the Timberwolves as a second team in the State Top 25 from the Sac-Joaquin Section after Elk Grove. Nevada-bound Jake Harvey batted .474 with 34 RBI, Sac State-bound Zack Malone hit .464 with 27 RBI and had a 1.52 ERA while P Jacob Whitaker also had starring moments last season. One of the breakout stars from Area Code last summer also was Woodcreek’s Braeden Stone. The power pitcher has signed with USC.
23. St. Augustine (San Diego) 24-8-1
It’s San Diego so looking for a second team to rank at the start with a jumbled field of contending squads was difficult but necessary. The competition within the section is that good. Saints look good with their lineup led by San Diego State-bound Trevor Fox (7 HRs, 39 RBI) and their pitching led by Chaz McRoberts (7-1, 1.34 ERA).
24. Maranatha (Pasadena) 21-4
The Minutemen are packed with intriguing prospects and were No. 2 behind Sierra Canyon in the CIFSS D2 preseason rankings. The group includes junior P Garret McGuigan (Cal), senior P/1B Mikey Ebner (USC), senior INF Angelo Aleman (Cal State Fullerton) and one of the top freshmen anywhere in P Zach Strickland (UCLA commit). Maranatha already has a 2-0 record from the first weekend.
25. Stockdale (Bakersfield) 13-5
Stanford commit Ryan Featherstone (a junior) struck out 48 batters in 33 innings last season and leads an elite pitching staff. The Mustangs have another ace with Holden Garcia, who fanned 50 batters in 43 innings. Garcia has signed with Cal-Poly San Luis Obispo.
TEAMS ON THE BUBBLE
Citrus Valley (Redlands) 22-8
Clovis West (Fresno) 17-11-1
College Park (Pleasant Hill) 17-6
Eastlake (Chula Vista) 25-10
Granite Hills (El Cajon) 28-10
La Mirada 19-12
Live Oak (Morgan Hill) 17-3
McClatchy (Sacramento) 20-4
Millikan (Long Beach) 26-5
M.L. King (Riverside) 24-6
Palo Alto 21-5
Rancho Bernardo (San Diego) 25-8
Redwood (Visalia) 15-12
San Ramon Valley (Danville) 15-9
South Hills (West Covina) 17-9
St. Mary’s (Stockton) 16-4
Tamalpais (Mill Valley) 19-1
Thousand Oaks 29-1
Trabuco Hills (Mission Viejo) 25-10
Villa Park 22-6
Vista Murrieta (Murrieta) 17-12
Mark Tennis is the co-founder and publisher of CalHiSports.com. He can be reached at email@example.com. Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle: @CalHiSports