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Baseball Game of the Week: Mission Viejo Vs. El Toro

Hitting to all fields. First up this week is Mission Viejo's game of the week against El Toro. Then a look at Laguna Beach's efforts to turn around its fortune and finally win a league title.

High school baseball reached its second chapter of the spring last week. Season-opening tournaments and tune-ups were left behind, with renewed league rivalries now taking center stage. League competition provides an early test for Orange County teams hoping to establish themselves as playoff contenders.

In this edition of Baseball Notebook, we'll examine who started strong, size up the area’s standout players, and gear up for another interesting week of local matchups. We’ll also go high and inside with one of the area’s rising stars.

But first, let's have a look at some of the week's toughest match-ups:

Games of the Week

Mission Viejo takes on El Toro in a Wednesday doubleheader.

Each team has championship aspirations and has already taken on some of the area’s top programs this season. The Diablos and Chargers square off beginning at 4:30 p.m. at Saddleback College, where you’re likely to find plenty of scouts on hand for the nonleague contest. Each squads returns from a one-week hiatus and has a well-rested rotation, so expect epic pitching matchups to ensue.

JSerra Heads to Santa Ana for Friday Night Lights Meeting with Mater Dei

The Lions underwhelmed with a 2-0 loss at Servite last Friday so they shouldn’t need any extra incentive to bring their A-game on the road. Plenty of prognosticators (including yours truly) have labeled the Lions as a prohibitive favorite in the Trinity League this season. The Monarchs have finished as the league's runner-up every year since 2007 and a win over JSerra on Friday night could prove to be huge when May rolls around. Game starts at 6 p.m.
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Leading Off

Now let's try to answer a tough question. What exactly does it take to reverse the fortunes of half a century?

It has been 48 years since Laguna Beach last claimed a league championship in baseball. However, something about 2011 feels different, according to Breakers coach Jeff Sears.

When the 2010 campaign came to a close, Sears and team’s veteran players went out for a bite to eat at Laguna Beach’s historical Lumberyard. The meal included cokes, burgers and a whole lot of game planning.

"We began to develop a new thought process toward the end of last year," Sears said. "The seniors-to-be and I sat down together for dinner and discussed what needed to be changed and how exactly we would go about changing it. Everyone needed to buy in and realize that we were going to be a good team this season. Our leaders bought into it right away and once that happened, we knew we'd be successful."

Laguna Beach hired Sears as head coach before the 2008 season, when this year’s senior class arrived on campus as freshmen. Now they’re aiming to cap off the collaboration with a banner season.

The Breakers are undefeated through eight games this March and dominated Estancia - the defending Orange Coast League champions - on the road in Friday’s Orange Coast League opener. Laguna Beach senior Chris Paul limited the Eagles to one hit, picking up his third win and second complete game of the season.

Paul, who also plays shortstop and is a standout hitter, struck out 12 in the victory. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is now a sterling 32-to-1 after three starts.

"In any rotation, it's important to have a guy you can depend on at the top of a lineup," Sears said. "Chris is going out there and throwing strikes with confidence. He believes in his pitches so much that he’s still a little angry about his only walk of the season. It came on a full count and he's convinced the pitch was a strike."

Paul isn’t alone in orchestrating Laguna Beach’s breakout beginning to its season. Fellow seniors Erik Peruzzi (.500 batting average, team-leading 13 hits) and Keaton Jones (.333 average, 11 runs) and freshman Steven Harrison (2 RBIs in win over Estancia) combine to form a formidable top half of the lineup.

The Breakers began the year winning the Costa Mesa bracket of the Newport Elks Tournament, providing instant validation after an off-season of refocus. Laguna Beach hosts league rivals Santa Ana Calvary Chapel and Godinez this week.

Both teams beat the Breakers on the road last season, but this is a Laguna Beach squad primed to move on from its past.

"Even though no one is saying the words 'league title' already, that’s this group's goal," Sears said. "They simply told me they want to ‘stop the drought.' When this group of kids puts their mind to something, it's hard to doubt them."

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Touch 'Em All

A round-up of results from last week’s meaningful matchups:

Tuesday, March 15

    * Corona del Mar and Newport Harbor split their nonleague doubleheader.

The Sea Kings (6-2) prevailed, 6-3, in the opening game. Junior pitcher Andrew McCormack tossed six effective innings to improve his record to 2-1, while outfielder Will Morrow was three for three at the plate with 2 RBIs.  Newport Harbor scored three runs in seventh inning to steal the second game, 5-4.

    * El Toro takes one of two against top-ranked Edison.

The Chargers (4-3) let a 3-1 lead slip away late in the front-end of a nonleague doubleheader at UC Irvine. Edison (7-1), ranked No. 1 in the CIF Southern Division 1 coaches’ poll, scored three in runs in the final two innings for a 4-3 victory, spoiling El Toro pitcher Tyler Brashears’ six-inning, 12-stikeout performance. Senior pitcher Garrett Mundell dominated the second game, recording his second win of the year, 7-1, with a complete game.

    * Fountain Valley 8, Villa Park 7

After falling to Villa Park, 2-1, in the first game of a doubleheader, the Barons (4-4) edged visiting Villa Park (4-3) with a late rally in the second game. Fountain Valley scored three runs in the final frame to erase a two-run deficit. Nathan Rodriguez launched a two-run homer and picked up 4 RBIs in the nonleague win.

Friday, March 18

    * Capistrano Valley Christian 22, Fairmont Prep 4

The Eagles (5-3, 1-0 in league play) opened up their defense of the San Joaquin title by obliterating Fairmont Prep, 22-4, in Friday’s league opener. Capistrano Valley Christian has outscored opponents 81-32 through eight games

    * Dana Hills 2, San Clemente 1

Yale-bound senior pitcher Eric Hsieh went the distance for the Dolphins (5-3, 1-0) in Dana Hills’ 2-1 South Coast victory at San Clemente (5-3, 0-1).

    * Capistrano Valley 9, Tesoro 5

The Cougars (3-3, 1-0) scored four decisive runs in the top of the fifth inning at Tesoro in the South Coast opener. Junior third baseman Cristian Salina had three hits in four at-bats, including a triple, and an RBI for Capistrano Valley.  Sophomore Brett Halasz tallied two hits and an RBI for the Titans (2-6, 0-1).

    * Huntington Beach 5, Los Alamitos 4

The Oilers (5-3, 1-0) scored our runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to surge past visiting Los Alamitos (2-4, 0-1) in Sunset League play. Junior right-hander Troy Rallings allowed only one run in five innings for the Griffins, lowering his earned-run average to 1.47 in three appearances.

    * Servite 2, JSerra 0

Servite (5-3, 1-0) delivered a strong statement with a shutout victory at home over JSerra (6-2, 0-1) in a Trinity League opener.  Junior Cole Irven continues to build on his reputation as one of the league’s premier pitchers, improving his season record to 2-0 with a dominant performance against the Lions’ explosive lineup.

    * Trabuco Hills 7, Aliso Niguel 3

The Mustangs (7-1, 1-0) built an early 4-0 lead before tacking on three more runs in the sixth inning of an impressive home victory over Sea View League newcomer Aliso Niguel (4-2, 0-1). Sophomore Adam Vargas raked two triples for Trabuco Hills, collecting four RBIs in the victory.

    * San Juan Hills 5, Laguna Hills 1

The Stallions (5-2, 1-0) rode the arm of senior Christian Stubbs to a commanding Sea View home victory. Stubbs struck out nine while allowing only two hits against the visiting Hawks (0-7, 0-1)

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Seeing-Eye Singles

Random observations of recent baseball occurrences in Orange County...

-- I’m not sure anyone is throwing their fastball more consistently at this point in the year than El Toro pitcher Garrett Mundell. The 6-foot-6 righty, who will head to Fresno State in the fall, has surrendered only three earned runs in 19 innings. Despite the early season success, Mundell isn’t pleased quite yet. After last Tuesday’s complete game win over top-ranked Edison, Mundell told me he was “a little disappointed in his off-speed pitches.” Considering the fact that no Edison base-runner reached third base until the seventh inning, it’s scary to think what will happen when he has all his pitches working on the same day.

-- Looking for an early CIF Southern Section player of the year candidate? Try Mater Dei junior Ty Moore. The 6-foot standout starred as a sophomore in 2010, when he combined with Cory Hahn for a perfect game and filled the role of closer for a Monarchs squad that finished ranked first in the state. Moore, a UCLA commit, owns 15 hits in 25 at-bats this season (.600 average) and is Mater Dei’s pitching ace. Moore was impressive in the Monarchs’ Trinity League opener, a 7-1 victory over St. John Bosco. He allowed only one first-inning run in six strong innings.

-- Trabuco Hills sophomore Adam Vargas is on an absolute tear. The third baseman drove in eight runs during the Mustangs' two most recent wins (15-8 over Millikan on Tuesday and 7-3 over Aliso Niguel on Friday). Vargas collected six hits, including three triples and a home run, and also scored three runs in the two victories.

 -- Despite beginning the season 2-6, Tesoro sure can hit the ball. Titans hitters have blasted six home runs and 20 extra-base hits in eight games. If the pitching can come around (Tesoro currently allows over six runs per contest) the team could turn things around quickly.

-- Los Amigos endured through a challenging 2010 campaign, when the team finished fifth in the Garden Grove League. The Lobos' pitching has improved from last year, but production at the plate remains a work in progress. Los Amigos (1-5) has scored a paltry 16 runs so far in 2011, averaging slightly over one run in losses, three of which came via shutouts. The Lobos look to shake out of their frustrating offensive slump before the league schedule commences with an April 5 game against Bolsa Grande.

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Curtain Call

Here are some highlights from a recent conversation with Laguna Beach senior Chris Paul. After shattering nearly every school receiving record on the football field, Paul now embarks on his final spring in maroon and white. The slugging shortstop hit eight home runs in 2010 and is off to a sensational start this season.

Paul anchors the upstart Breakers’ batting lineup (.462 average, team-leading 12 RBIs) and pitching rotation (3-0 with two complete games). He also leads Laguna Beach in stolen bases.

TD: How have you developed such a strong command of your pitches (32 strikeouts, one walk in 2011)?

Chris Paul: I’ve tried to pound the strike zone and trust my fielders to make plays behind me. It’s all about staying confident and executing when the ball is in your hands. So far, things have worked out pretty well.

TD: Do you prefer being at the plate with a bat or on the mound with the ball?

CP: I’d always rather be hitting, regardless of whether I’m pitching or fielding. At the same time, I’m not sure what the future holds, so I’ll continue to work on improving each aspect of my game.

TD: Did you grow up emulating any particular professional baseball athlete?

CP: I’ve always liked (Angels outfielder) Torii Hunter. I admire his hardworking attitude and the way he seems to always have fun while playing hard. Those are two things I try to bring onto the field myself.

TD: It has been 48 years since Laguna Beach last won a league trophy. Have you thought about how it would feel to finally bring the title home?

CP: It would mean the world to us. As seniors, we arrived at high school the same year as coach Sears and we worked together to get the wheels turning. Now we want to chase after the championship and keep moving the program in a positive direction.

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Closing Number

7

Trabuco Hills collected its seventh win of the season with Friday’s 7-3 victory over Aliso Niguel. The Mustangs didn’t reach seven wins in  2010 until the final weekend of April.

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Tyler Donohue's Baseball Notebook appears weekly on all Orange County Patch sites.

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