The earliest ever start to the baseball & softball season in the CIF Southern Section, three weeks before some top teams in other CIF sections in the state are playing their first games, makes it impossible for us to do a true preseason state ranking this year for either baseball or softball.
With games beginning this weekend in the state’s largest section by far, however, we do want to proclaim a preseason No. 1 for the state in both sports and a preseason state top five. We’ll do a more thorough breakdown later as more teams get games in. Instead of a preseason state ranking, however, it will simply be the first rankings of the 2024 regular season.
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PRESEASON BASEBALL TOP 5 TEAMS
(with last year’s win-loss record)
1. Corona 22-11
The Panthers are viewed by all of the national groups that do rankings (we did them before as well for many years with ESPN and Student Sports) as one of the very best in either the No. 1 or No. 2 positions. It’s easy to see why. There are loads of returning players, including UCLA-bound No. 1 pitcher Ethan Shiefelbein, plus the 2023 Cal-Hi Sports State Freshman of the Year, Anthony Murphy, along with key transfers junior Brady Ebel (the freshman of the year from 2022) and his younger brother Trey (who were at Etiwanda and are the sons of Dodgers’ third base coach Dino Ebel). Head coach Andy Wise’s squad also is coming off of a CIFSS D1 semifinal finish from last year. Similar to JSerra two years ago, though, Corona has never won a title in the top division of the CIFSS.
2. Harvard-Westlake (Studio City) 21-9
Bryce Rainer has been the state player of the year among freshmen, sophomores and juniors the past three seasons and starts the spring as the leading candidate to be Mr. Baseball State Player of the Year. Rainer (Texas) didn’t even pitch last season, but still did enough as a hitter to stay on top of the other juniors. Tommy Bridges (TCU) will be another four-year standout as a pitcher for the Wolverines. Duncan Marsten (Wake Forest) is another elite pitcher. Harvard-Westlake also had several other elite younger players last season, including freshman James Tronstein (Stanford).
3. Lutheran (Orange) 20-12-1
The preseason No. 1 team by the Orange County Register has a lineup that 15-year head coach Eric Borba told them is “deeper than its ever been.” The Lancers have one of the state’s top MLB Draft prospects in senior outfielder Derek Curiel (who has signed with LSU), who has been ranked among the best of the 2024 class since he was a freshman. Junior OF Josh Hartshorn also is back after leading the team in RBI with 24. Twelve players on the roster in all have signed letters in intent for D1 colleges or have committed to D1 colleges.
4. De La Salle (Concord) 27-5
Pitching strength has to keep the Spartans near the top of the state rankings. They also are taking a 30-game playoff win streak into this season including two straight CIF NorCal Open Division titles and six straight CIF North Coast Section D1 titles. That’s the second longest playoff win streak in state history. R.J. Meyn went 10-0 on the mound with a 2.20 ERA while junior Jack Hershey went 6-3 with a 2.21 ERA. Hank Tripaldi, who hit perhaps the most dramatic home run in NorCal history (a two-out grand slam in the top of the seventh inning of the NorCal title game vs Valley Christian), is also among those back.
5. JSerra (SJ Capistrano) 24-9
We will always start out a team like the Lions with two straight CIFSS D1 titles and a No. 1 statewide finish from the year before higher than perhaps others do (who look at player rankings more than anything else). Results on the field will quickly take care of preseason prognosis anyway. The Lions lose a lot of position players, especially Mr. Baseball POY Trent Caraway, but they have a lot of pitching coming back. The best of that group is senior Matt Champion (signed with LSU).
Others: Eastlake (Chula Vista) 28-6, Huntington Beach 21-9, Franklin (Elk Grove) 30-5, Notre Dame (Sherman Oaks) 28-4, Santa Margarita (Rancho SM) 28-6, Valley Christian (San Jose) 31-4.
PRESEASON SOFTBALL TOP 5 TEAMS
(with last year’s win-loss record)
1. Pacifica (Garden Grove) 24-8
Last season’s final No. 2 team is looking to win a second straight CIFSS D1 title and has just about everyone back to do it. The Mariners also will play in all of other top tournaments for a schedule that makes them a national No. 1 contender. It’s a group with several four-year varsity standouts, including ace pitcher Brynne Nally, a Long Beach State recruit. The others are shortstop Kaniya Bragg (UCLA), catcher Delaina Ma’ae (UC Santa Barbara), outfielder Kayli Counts (Cal) and first base Annika Sogsti (Cal State Fullerton).
2. St. Francis (Mountain View) 28-4
It was considered to start the Lancers on top to start the season since they did get a win last season over Pacifica at the Michelle Carew Classic. They later had a loss to Los Alamitos and were not able to end No. 1 in the state for a second straight year due to two losses to Hollister (which was the team that finished as State Team of the Year). St. Francis has one of the top one-two pitching punches in NorCal history and it should keep the team highly ranked again. Kate Munnerlyn (Texas A&M) and Shannon Keighran (Boise State) are those two pitchers plus they can contribute at the plate.
3. Huntington Beach 23-6
Toward the end of the season, junior Zoe Prystajko of the Oilers was doing so well as a hitter and pitcher that she was looking like a leading Ms. Softball State Player of the Year contender. It didn’t end as hoped, but she was still the Orange County Player of the Year and starts 2024 as one of the best in the state. The Stanford-bound Prystajko also has seven other returning starters coming back with her. It’s never easy for Huntington Beach playing teams like Los Alamitos, however, in its league.
4. Lutheran (Orange) 22-6
The Lancers will feature one of the state’s top returning pitchers in Brianne Weiss plus they still have one of the most exciting juniors in the nation in outfielder Kai Minor. Kai has committed to Oklahoma.
5. Norco 27-4
All of the success in recent years under head coach Rick Robinson made it too tough for us to put the Cougars behind two others from the Inland Empire region that also look strong to start this season: Riverside Poly & Great Oak of Temecula. Two of the best players Norco has ever had — Alyssa Hovermale (Florida) and Mya Perez (Texas A&M) will be be missed. Among those back are outfielder Dakota Potter (South Carolina), junior outfielder Tamryn Shorter (Boise State) and senior infielder Maddy Aguilera (Boise State).
Others: Archbishop Mitty (San Jose) 21-5, Great Oak (Temecula) 20-8-1, Hollister 30-3, Los Alamitos 24-4, Poway 30-3, Whitney (Rocklin) 22-8.