Southern Section Division 1 baseball tournament to be 'a gantlet'

 Southern Section Division 1 baseball tournament to be 'a gantlet'
Harvard-Westlake's Jack Flaherty is 22-0 over the last two seasons and is expected to face Riverside North in a playoff opener on Friday. (Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)

Get ready for an unpredictable, closely contested single-elimination Southern Section Division 1 baseball tournament set to begin with wild-card playoff games on Wednesday and first-round games on Friday.

San Juan Capistrano JSerra was given the No. 1 seed on Monday, with Loyola No. 2, Fountain Valley No. 3 and Agoura No. 4. It's the first time in JSerra's 11-year history that it earned the No. 1 seed. But that doesn't mean things will be easy for the Lions.


"It's as nasty as nasty can be," Coach Brett Kay said of the tournament. "It's a gantlet. If you want to be a real good team, you have to beat good teams."

All anyone needs to know is a reminder of what happened last season, when No. 1-seeded Santa Ana Mater Dei was stunned in the opening round by Huntington Beach.

This playoff season, it's the Monarchs who could be in position to do what Huntington Beach did. They qualified on the final day of the regular season to earn a wild-card spot out of the Trinity League as a fourth-place team. They open on Wednesday at Moreno Valley Valley View, and a win would send them to a Friday game against South Coast champion Mission Viejo Capistrano Valley.

Mater Dei has quality starting pitchers in freshman Nick Pratto and Notre Dame-bound senior Charlie Vorsheck. As Coach Burt Call said, "I think we can make some noise."

There's no hiding or holding back in a tournament loaded with quality pitchers and quality teams.

Huntington Beach Coach Benji Medure said, "Someone can bite you when you least expect it."

There's debate about which bracket is tougher. In the upper bracket is JSerra, defending champion Studio City Harvard-Westlake, Huntington Beach, ranked No. 1 by The Times, and improving Santa Ana Foothill.

In the bottom of the bracket is pitching-rich Loyola, hitting-rich Fountain Valley, Santa Margarita and pitcher Griffin Canning, Newhall Hart and Norco, which has lost only twice but didn't play a very challenging schedule.

The road to Dodger Stadium and the championship game on June 6 will depend on teams playing defense, pitching depth and strategic decisions by coaches on how to deal with matchups.

In winning last season's title, Harvard-Westlake benefited from a little luck in getting to miss facing several top pitchers and having its ace, Jack Flaherty, available to pitch in the final.

This season, Flaherty is 9-0. He's 22-0 over the last two seasons and is expected to face Riverside North in an opener on Friday. Harvard-Westlake struggled at times without Flaherty on the mound, but No. 2 pitcher Michael Vokulich won his last league game and will be counted on to win a couple of playoff games if the Wolverines expect a return trip to Dodger Stadium.

Division 2 is another difficult tournament. Temecula Great Oak received the No. 1 seed, with Dana Hills No. 2, Vista Murrieta No. 3 and Glendora No. 4. There will be tough matchups throughout the tournament.

There are teams with outstanding pitchers in wild-card games on Tuesday, such as San Clemente, Santa Barbara and Temecula Valley. All are capable of advancing and wreaking havoc for the top seeds in the tournament.