Being the best in regular season means little come baseball playoff time – Los Angeles Times
Huntington Beach High School deserves to put up a banner that says, “Best baseball team in Southern California, best baseball team in California and best baseball team in America for the regular season.”
The Oilers (26-4) have shown over four months that they have the best one-two pitching combination in Hagen Danner and Nick Pratto; the best clutch hitters in Danner, Pratto and Ben McConnell; the best pitching depth; the best closer in Josh Hahn; the best defense.
And yet, when the Southern Section Division 1 playoffs begin on Thursday, Huntington Beach’s season could easily come to a stunning end without winning a championship. That’s how tough it’s going to be to finish the Division 1 playoffs with a dogpile at Dodger Stadium on June 2. It’s the most challenging single-elimination tournament in America. The Southern Section placed its best teams, regardless of enrollment or geography, in Division 1 before the season. No. 32 will be capable of beating No. 1 when the bracket is released on Monday.
“I think the less I talk about it, the more of the advantage we’ll have,” Coach Benji Medure said of the challenge ahead. “It’s pretty obvious it’s one [loss] and done. We’re not going to harp on it. Since the Boras tournament, we’ve talked we don’t want to lose another game.”
Some coaches have pleaded for a best two-out-of-three series to determine a champion. College and pro baseball don’t rely on single elimination to determine their champions. But proposals to revise the playoffs have failed, so it’s do or die time.
Many of the advantages Huntington Beach enjoyed for months — most notably pitching depth — will vanish in a one-game situation. Just look at the potential standout pitchers who could get a crack at the Oilers and deliver a knockout blow in a one-game, loser-goes-home matchup.
Jake Jackson of Lake Forest El Toro, a Nevada signee, is 9-1 with a 0.56 ERA. Teams will want to stay away from Dana Hills and Hans Crouse, a USC signee and top pro prospect. Foothill League champion Valencia has UCLA signee Chase Farrell.
West Covina South Hills has Stanford commit Brandon Dieter. La Puente Bishop Amat has USC signee Isaac Esqueda. Cypress has come on strong behind left-hander Josh Landry and senior Raul Salazar. Sherman Oaks Notre Dame freshman Lucas Gordon, a USC commit, is 8-1 with a 1.39 ERA.
Just look at what happened last season. San Juan Capistrano JSerra was seeded No. 1 and lost 2-0 in the semifinals to Studio City Harvard-Westlake. The Wolverines got a shutout from then-sophomore pitcher Jesse Bergin. The UCLA commit is back for his junior season and reaching peak form, making the Wolverines a dangerous opponent.
In 2013, Huntington Beach knocked off the No. 1 seed, Santa Ana Mater Dei, 2-1.
“They were clearly the best team and we had a good pitcher in Noah Davis,” Medure said.
As if the pitchers aren’t enough to worry about, there’s Hunter Greene of Notre Dame and Royce Lewis of JSerra, both of whom are likely first-round draft picks playing shortstop in the playoffs.
On the positive, Medure has been preparing all season for the playoffs by limiting the innings of Danner and Pratto. They should be fresh and poised to do their best.
But beware of the potential trap games ahead. There’s any number of pitchers capable of beating the Oilers on their best day. So it could be the luck of the draw that determines the Division 1 champion.