It’s a smooth move upward for Junior Player of the Year Gavin Grahovac of Villa Park and Sophomore Player of the Year Bryce Rainer from Harvard-Westlake of Studio City as those two were the leaders last season for sophomores and freshmen. A junior also has been chosen as State Medium Schools Player of the Year, it’s one of the strongest State Small Schools Players of the Year in recent memory and it’s a player with strong ties to the L.A. Dodgers who is State Freshman of the Year.
For more on Mr. Baseball State Player of the Year Malcolm Moore, CLICK HERE.
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Congratulations to the following five players also who also have been selected this week as Cal-Hi Sports State Players of the Year. Thanks to contributing editor Harold Abend for doing the writeup on Nick Dugan.
Nick Dugan (St. Bernard’s, Eureka)
In the write-up two weeks ago for Nick Dugan of Eureka St. Bernard’s as one of five finalists for the Mr. Baseball State Player of the Year award, and one of only two nominees from north of Fresno and the only one from the CIF North Coast Section, it was noted that it was rare for a player from a small school to be named a Mr. Baseball finalist.
Now, after garnering the Mr. Baseball finalist nomination, one of the best players to ever come out of the far reaches of the CIFNCS, or “Behind the Redwood Curtain” as the locals call it, has been named the 2022 Small Schools State Player of the Year for baseball.
With his selection Dugan becomes the first player from Behind the Redwood Curtain to win the award and the first from the CIF NCS since 2018 when Alex Williams of San Lorenzo Redwood Christian was honored.
“Right on, that’s awesome. I was hoping for this honor,” said the Stanford-bound Dugan, who is currently pitching for the Lincoln Potters of the California Collegiate League before heading down to The Farm.
Dugan has been on the radar screen of college and MLB scouts from his early teens.
“At 14-years old I saw Nick pitch in an American Legion playoff game in front of recruiters from every school in the Pac-12 and he threw a shutout and showed that he has ice water in his veins,” said St. Bernard’s head coach Matt Tomlin. “I knew at that time how special he was going to be.”
“Nick is the best pitcher I have ever seen pitch north of the Redwood Curtain at any level,” continued Tomlin, who is also a successful American Legion coach.
To say Dugan saved his best for his last two games of the season would be an understatement. With St. Bernard’s trailing 6-2 in the top of the third inning of the state CIF Northern Regional Division III title game against Alpha School of Elverta, Dugan came on in relief of starter Aidan Dorsch and dominated the final 4.1 innings after striking out all 13 batters he faced.
The St. Bernard’s offense got one run in the bottom of the third and four in the fourth and with Dugan mowing down everyone he faced the Crusaders pulled out a 7-6 victory.
“After the third inning I went into the dugout and told my teammates ‘you get the lead and they won’t score,” Dugan remarked. “I didn’t realize how many strikeouts I had but I knew I was on a roll.”
Dugan, who has a fastball that touches the early 90s, has seemingly been on a roll all season. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound right-hander was the winning pitcher in an 8-0 semifinal victory over a large school Fresno Central that was placed in D3 based on competitive equity. In that shutout win he did walk five but pitched a one-hitter with 10 strikeouts.
On the season Dugan was 12-0 with a 0.82 ERA. In 60 innings pitched he had 137 strikeouts and only gave up 18 hits.
Besides being lights out on the mound Dugan is tough to handle with bat in hand. He was 2-for-4 with two doubles, two RBI and two runs scored in the Alpha Charter win. On the season Dugan led the Crusaders with a .524 average, seven home runs and 41 RBI.
To get into Stanford, where Dugan may someday pitch to Mr. Baseball overall honoree Stanford-bound catcher Malcolm Moore of Sacramento McClatchy, takes not only athletic prowess but academics as well. Nick qualifies in both areas after carrying a 4.1 GPA at St. Bernard’s.
What about the MLB Draft?
“I’m not going to sign so I’m really not thinking about the draft right now,” Dugan said. “I’m more focused on Stanford and then after that it will be my time.”
Recent Small Schools State Players of the Year: 2021 – Braden Ross (El Cajon Christian); 2020 – No selection (pandemic); 2019 – Daniel Carrion (Winters); 2018 – Alex Williams (Redwood Christian, San Lorenzo); 2017 – Robert Cruz (Redlands Arrowhead Christian); 2016 – Brett Super (Newport Beach Sage Hill); 2015 – Nico Hoerner (Oakland Head-Royce); 2014 – Nico Hoerner (Oakland Head-Royce); 2013 – Carlos Salazar (Kerman); 2012 – Nolan Gannon (Solana Beach Santa Fe Christian); 2011 – Robb Woodcock (Kentfield Marin Catholic); 2010 – Dylan Covey (Sierra Madre Maranatha); 2009 – Andrew Rich (Easton Washington); 2008 – Clay Cederquist (Fowler).
Gavin Grahovac (Villa Park)
It was more of a wide open race last year to see who would be the State Sophomore of the Year and in the end it was Grahovac who snagged the selection. This season for the juniors, not so much.
After already being selected as the L.A. Times and Orange County Register Player of the Year in a SoCal season in which Orange County teams won the CIF Southern Section D1 and CIF Southern California regional D1 titles, Grahovac now adds State Junior of the Year recognition.
Villa Park had a season in which it won the SoCal Boras Classic, reached the semifinals of the CIFSS D1 and SoCal playoffs and finished 29-5. Gavin batted .376 with five home runs and 24 RBI in 34 games. He also had 17 doubles with three triples and only struck out 15 times in 146 at-bats.
One of Grahovac’s best outings was when he hit two homers in a CIFSS D1 playoff win over Cypress. In the semifinals against eventual champion JSerra, he came up to bat and faced four outfielders in an alignment by the Lions that was very unusual. He had previously had several impressive at-bats when Villa Park defeated JSerra at the Boras Classic.
Grahovac comes from an athletic family. His dad, Mike, played professionally in the San Francisco Giants organization for five years, while his older sister, Peyton, played volleyball at Arizona State. He’s been a shortstop for his Villa Park career, but could be more of a corner infielder since he’s 6-3, 210 pounds and can sting the ball so effectively as a batter.
The future MLB Draft boards also all have Grahovac ranked among the best in the nation for 2023. He does seem to have the mental intensity to keep improving and ignore all of the attention he’s been getting. Blessed as well with a 4.2 GPA, Gavin has committed to Texas A&M for college.
The last State Junior of the Year from Orange County was Royce Lewis of JSerra in 2016, who in a good omen perhaps for Grahovac was the No. 1 pick the following year in the MLB Draft. The others in a honor that goes back to 1940 have been Gerald Laird from La Quinta of Westminster (1997), Tom Redington from Esperanza of Anaheim (1986), Steve Buechele from Servite of Anaheim (1978), Gary Templeton of Santa Ana Valley (1973) and Andy Bielanski from Savanna of Anaheim (1968).
Recent State Juniors of the Year: 2021 – Malcolm Moore (Sacramento McClatchy); 2020 – No selection (pandemic); 2019 – Jared Jones (La Mirada); 2018 – Dawson Netz (Pasadena Maranatha); 2017 – Grant Holman (Chula Vista Eastlake); 2016 – Royce Lewis (SJ Capistrano JSerra); 2015 – Jeremy Ydens (Mountain View St. Francis); 2014 – Joe DeMers (Pleasant Hill College Park); 2013 – Jack Flaherty (North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake); 2012 – Brett Seeburger (Vista); 2011 – Rio Ruiz (La Puente Bishop Amat); 2010 – J.D. Davis (Elk Grove); 2009 – Jake Rodriguez (Elk Grove).
Bryce Rainer (Harvard-Westlake, Studio City)
The choice among sophomores this year opened up some when last year’s Freshman of the Year, Harvard-Westlake’s Bryce Rainer, didn’t pitch at all after he pitched impressively — and hit — to help the Wolverines win the 2021 CIF Southern Section D1 title.
Despite not pitching, though, Rainer still had an impressive sophomore season. He was the leading hitter for a team that didn’t go all the way this time but still finished No. 10 in the final state rankings. Bryce batted .393 with 35 hits, five homers and 21 RBI. He was the only sophomore chosen to the All-CIFSS D1 team and was the only sophomore position player named to the L.A. Daily News all-area team (sophomore teammate pitcher Tommy Bridges also was on that team).
The only sophomore named to the All-CIFSS D2 team, catcher Cole Hansen of Norco, also was seriously considered for the honor. Hansen batted .409 for the Cougars with five homers and 28 RBI. He’s the younger brother of 2019 Ms. Softball Player of the Year Kinzie Hansen (now at Oklahoma).
There is still a debate in the scouting world whether Rainer will have his best future as a pitcher or hitter. And considering how highly regarded he’s been as a pitcher, that just shows you how good he’s been swinging the bat.
Bryce is the first ever State Sophomore of the Year from Harvard-Westlake. There have been a number of them from the San Fernando Valley, the most recent being fireballing pitcher Hunter Greene of Sherman Oaks Notre Dame in 2015. The first on the all-time list is Hall of Famer Robin Yount of Woodland Hills Taft in 1971.
Recent State Sophomores of the Year: 2021 – Gavin Grahovac (Villa Park); 2020 – No selection (pandemic); 2019 – Jonathan Cymrot (San Jose Valley Christian); 2018 – Jared Jones (La Mirada); 2017 – Kyle Ashworth (Tustin Foothill); 2016 – Brandon Dieter (West Covina South Hills); 2015 – Hunter Greene (Sherman Oaks Notre Dame); 2014 – Mickey Moniak (Carlsbad La Costa Canyon); 2013 – Joe DeMers (Pleasant Hill College Park); 2012 – Alex Jackson (San Diego Rancho Bernardo); 2011 – Ryan Tellez (Elk Grove); 2010 – Rio Ruiz (La Puente Bishop Amat); 2009 – Christan Lopes (Valencia).
Brady Ebel (Etiwanda)
One of the top players on Etiwanda’s team that won the CIF Southern Section D2 title and completed a 27-9 season was a freshman, but that isn’t the only reason that Ebel was able to gain some separation on others from around the state who were considered. He’s also already demonstrated an effectiveness for hitting and pitching.
Ebel batted .330 for the Eagles and he had five homers with 36 RBI. As a pitcher, he came on for 44 innings and had a 6-0 record with a 0.32 ERA. Brady also struck out 35 batters.
While Etiwanda fell in the CIF SoCal D2 title game to Torrey Pines of San Diego, Ebel has also already earned significant honors such as All-CIFSS D2 (only freshman on the team) and All-Riverside Inland Empire (also only freshman on the team).
Baseball success has been a part of Brady’s life since the beginning. He’s the son of Los Angeles Dodgers’ third base coach Dino Ebel. Dino is in his fourth season in that role. He’d previously been a minor league manager in the L.A. Angels’ system for nine years.
The State Freshman of the Year selection goes back to 1988 and the only other player from the Inland Empire who has been selected has been Matt Davidson of Yucaipa for 2006.
Recent State Freshmen of the Year: 2021 – Bryce Rainer (Studio City Harvard-Westlake); 2020 – No selection (pandemic); 2019 – Luke Davis (Cypress); 2018 – Jonathan Cymrot (Valley Christian, San Jose); 2017 – Lucas Gordon (Sherman Oaks Notre Dame); 2016 – Jasiah Dixon (Orange Lutheran); 2015 – Joey Magrisi (San Diego Rancho Bernardo); 2014 – Tommy Palomera (Chatsworth); 2013 – Conrado Diaz (San Ysidro); 2012 – Jagger Rusconi (Valencia West Ranch); 2011 – Alex Jackson (San Diego Rancho Bernardo); 2010 – J.R. Crawford (Lakewood); 2009 – Ty France (Covina South Hills); 2008 – Christian Lopes (Valencia).
Eric Bitonti (Aquinas, San Bernardino)
The Aquinas baseball team had a phenomenal regular season and entered the CIF Southern Section Division 4 playoffs with just two losses. An early round upset ended the season at 28-3, but for all that Bitonti did for the Falcons he still did plenty to gain a state player of the year nod.
The junior who has committed to Oregon and who is ranked among the top Class of 2023 prospects in the state was tied for third in the state in reported category of runs scored with 55. Bitonti also had 50 hits, batted .526 and had 41 RBI, 17 doubles and eight homers. He also showed dominance on the mound as Bitonti went 6-2 with a 0.62 ERA. He pitched 45 1/3 innings and struck out 47.
Tyson Heaton of Yucaipa in 2018 is the most recent player from the Inland Empire to be medium schools player of the year. There’s also been Chris Mathewson of Fontana Kaiser for 2014 and among others perhaps our favorite, the Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers of Upland for 1963.
Recent Medium Schools State Players of the Year: 2021 – Tucker Bougie (Mill Valley Tamalpais); 2020 – No selection (pandemic); 2019 – Colin Barber (Chico Pleasant Valley); 2018 – Tyson Heaton (Yucaipa); 2017 – Matt Sauer (Santa Maria Righetti); 2016 – Sean Reynolds (Redondo Beach Redondo Union); 2015 – Peter Lambert (San Dimas); 2014 – Chris Mathewson (Fontana Kaiser); 2013 – Dominic Smith (Gardena Serra); 2012 – Troy Conyers (Lakeside El Capitan); 2011 – Rio Ruiz (La Puente Bishop Amat); 2010 – Angelo Gumbs (Torrance); 2009 – Ryan Wilkins (San Diego Cathedral Catholic); 2008 – Kyle Skipworth (Riverside Rubidoux); 2007 – Mike Stanton (Sherman Oaks Notre Dame).