NorCal/SoCal Players of the Week

Two of this week’s four honorees are Leigha Wood from University Prep of Redding and Zach Ireland from Beckman of Irvine. Photos: Hung T. Vu / Courtesy school &

With the baseball and softball seasons in the home stretch, and with so few teams still in action, in years past we sometimes had to dig deep to find the kind of outstanding performances that could qualify for a statewide player of the week award, let alone find a potential entry for the Cal-Hi Sports Online Record Book. Not this week. We have two. In Northern California, we visit Santa Rosa and Redding, and in Southern California our stops are in Irvine and Carson.

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Notes: For these honors, we also consider CIF Central Section players for Northern California. To nominate anyone, email

Cal-Hi Sports Northern California
Softball Player of the Week

Leigha Wood (University Prep, Redding) Soph.

For the second straight week we head to the far north and visit the CIF Northern Section to find the Northern California Softball Player of the Week, only this time instead of landing in Chico we go even farther north and find our award winner in Redding at University Prep.

The old expressions “shoot for the stars” and “go for the gusto” couldn’t be more appropriate than in describing the feats of the Panthers’ star sophomore catcher.

When the nomination for Leigha came in from University Prep head coach and Leigha’s mother, Katie Wood, she humbly asked us to consider Katie for the State Stat Star feature. Subsequently, a nomination came in from University Prep Athletic Director Steven Schuster, but that was after we had already made our choice.

As a result, the response to Coach Wood was “we can do better for Leigha” because she’s more than a stat star for what she did last week.

Leigha may have tied a state record for consecutive homers but it’s not a category that we have kept for the Cal-Hi Sports Online Record Book. However, the bottom line is in the CIF Northern Section Division IV semifinals and finals, a 10-0 victory over Willows and an 8-1 title game victory over West Valley of Cottonwood, Leigha blasted five consecutive round trippers, three against Willows and two versus West Valley.

For the two games combined, Leigha was 5-for-6 with the five homers, a walk, she got plunked, had seven RBI and scored four runs. For good measure, when she was intentionally walked and hit by a pitch she stole second base. Early in the week and in a quarterfinal 6-0 victory over Orland, she had an RBI and scored a run, but combined with the semis the Panthers’ backstop also threw out three of the five runners that reached base. For the playoffs, her OPS was an astronomical 3.227.

What Schuster did point out was pretty obvious, and that is Leigha has been the catalyst for not only the first league title for University but the first Northern Section championship in school history.

On the season, the two-sport star who also plays on the University Prep basketball team, is hitting .456 with 13 home runs, five triples, nine doubles, 32 RBI, 41 runs scored, and in 97 plate appearances Leigha has only struck out six times.

Her 13 home runs is the top reported mark in the Northern Section and No. 4 in Northern California. Her 41 runs scored in the No. 8 mark in the section.

Jack Pezzolo & catcher show some emotion after Jack’s 18-strikeout perfect game for Cardinal Newman in last week’s CIF North Coast Section playoffs. Photo: @CNCardinals /

Cal-Hi Sports Northern California
Baseball Player of the Week

Jack Pezzolo (Cardinal Newman, Santa Rosa) Jr.

We head to the Redwood Empire portion of the CIF North Coast Section and our destination is the City of Roses, better known as Santa Rosa, and it’s at Cardinal Newman where we find this week’s Northern California Baseball Player of the Week.

Pezzolo has been having an outstanding season on the mound, and at the plate as well, but in his most recent start as a pitcher he was beyond even stupendous.

Last week, in a 9-0 NCS Division II quarterfinal victory over Vallejo for a top-seeded Cardinal Newman team that has moved up four spots to No. 15 in this week’s Cal-Hi Sports rankings, nobody jacked one out of the park on Jack. In fact, no one got a hit off Pezzolo, and not even one batter reached base against the Cardinals’ junior lefthander. It was a perfect game and it was one in which he struck out 18 batters.

With that performance, Jack will etch his name into the Cal-Hi Sports Online State Record Book on the Most Strikeouts In No-Hitter/Perfect Game list.

Jack also helped his own cause with his bat after going 2-for-4 and scoring the only run he needed in the win.

So far this season for the 23-5 Cardinals and heading in a Wednesday semifinal matchup with visiting fourth-seeded Benicia, and in a game Cardinal Newman head coach Derek DeBenedetti tells Cal-Hi Sports that he will start, Pezzolo is 8-1 with a 1.29 ERA and 80 strikeouts with 29 walks in 54.1 innings.

When he’s not pitching, Jack plays the outfield and he’s a pretty good hitter as well. With bat in hand, he is hitting .349 with 22 RBI and 14 runs scored.

According to DeBenedetti, with 19 seniors on last year’s team, Jack was on junior varsity, but he has certainly earned his keep on varsity this season.

“Early in the season, he was prone to walking some batters, but as the year has progressed his command has improved,” remarked DeBenedetti. “Even against Vallejo he was in a couple of 3-0 and 3-1 counts but he attacked the zone and got them out.”

He certainly did get them out; all 21 of them.

Cal-Hi Sports Southern California
Baseball Player of the Week

Zack Ireland (Beckman, Irvine) Sr.

The search for the Southern California Baseball Player of the Week takes us to the City of Irvine and just east of where the I-5 and Highway 261 intersect and it’s at Beckman High where we find our honoree.

In late April, we strongly considered honoring the UC Davis-committed 6-foot-4, 180-pound right-handed pitcher when he tossed a no-hitter with a career best 16 strikeouts in a 5-0 Pacific Coast League victory over crosstown rival Irvine.

Now, after his most recent performance, Zack is back only this time he has snagged a statewide honor to go with his team winning a section championship.

Last Saturday, in a 2-1 victory over St. John Bosco of Bellflower in the CIF Southern Section Division 3 championship game at Diamond Stadium in Lake Elsinore, Ireland, who told Steve Fryer of the Orange County Register that he was not in top form in the outing, did nothing to hurt the 0.69 ERA he came into the game with. He gave up an unearned run on two hits with five strikeouts in seven innings of work in an 8-inning 2-1 victory.

Teammate Rex Jarcy pitched the eighth inning but in the top of the frame Ireland had a sacrifice bunt that advanced Isaiah Kapur into scoring position where he was plated with the winning run on a single by Jagger Snitko.

Also, last week, in a 3-0 semifinal win on the road at Los Alamitos, Ireland doubled and scored the first run.

Ireland finished the season with an 8-2 record and he obviously slightly lowered his 0.69 earned run average. The Patriots were eligible to keep playing in next week’s CIF Southern California regional playoffs, but they opted out.

Giselle Pantoja of Carson is a pitcher who had to go for 14 innings last week in one game that decided the CIF L.A. City Section Open Division title. Photo: Carson HS Athletics /

Cal-Hi Sports Southern California
Softball Player of the Week

Giselle Pantoja (Carson) Jr.

We venture to the Los Angeles City Section in our search for the Southern California Softball Player of the Week and it’s in Carson where we find this week’s award winner.

Pantoja has been in the circle for the Colts since her freshman season but she became the ace of the staff last season and has continued in that role this season as well.

Pantoja also was in the circle last season for Carson in the Los Angeles City Section Open Division championship against Granada Hills Charter and got the win in a wild eight-inning 12-11 victory.

This past season she took it a step further. Last week, and with Carson as an underdog to a Granada Hills Charter team that had gotten up to No. 9 in last week’s Cal-Hi Sports, Pantoja was in the circle again in a L.A. City Open title game at Long Beach State that was a total dichotomy of last season’s finale.

Unlike the slugfest of last season, Pantoja and Granada Hills Charter Lehigh-committed junior pitcher Addison Moorman had no-hitters through seven innings.

The game ended up going 14-innings and didn’t end until 11:30 pm last Saturday, and according to accounts in the media the L.A. City Section had to ask that the lights be allowed to stay on at Long Beach State past 11 pm.

In the end, Pantoja wound up going all 14 innings and although she walked eight the junior right-hander only gave up one hit and had 17 strikeouts.

Obviously, Giselle would want to give a shout out to senior Alana Langford. She ended up getting three of the five Colts’ hits with her last knock a solo home run that ended the festivities before everyone turned to pumpkins at midnight.

Pantoja finished the season with a 14-5 record, a 0.85 ERA and 156 strikeouts and 37 walks in 107 innings pitched. The 156 strikeouts was the No. 7 reported mark in the LA City Section.

As a section champion, Carson qualified for the CIF SoCal regional playoffs but like many of the CIF Southern Section title teams the Colts opted out.

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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