For the last couple years, picking the top two teams in the 2-A Metro-South Bay League was easy: Chula Vista High School was first, Hilltop second.
But the league standings figure to be in chaos this season since the Spartans and Lancers were elevated to the 3-A Metro-Mesa League. Joining the South Bay League are Mar Vista, which finished second in the Mesa League last season, and Castle Park.
"I talked to the Coronado coach (Ron Smock) the other day," said Southwest Coach Rex Whitehead, "and he said, 'It looks like a five-team race, doesn't it?' I have to agree with him."
Castle Park, which was tied for first in the Metro-Mesa for much of last season, is probably the preseason favorite, but the others are not far behind.
Southwest finished third last season but beat Chula Vista and Hilltop twice. However, the Raiders have not beaten Coronado, which was 3-9-1 in the league last season, in two years.
Here's a closer look at the league:
Last season's record: 2-11, 3-21
Finish: Fifth (Metro-Mesa League)
Coach: Bob Korzep
Top returners: Pitcher/center fielder Jose Palos (junior, bats right, throws right), right fielder Eddie Moreno (senior, bats left, throws left) and shortstop/pitcher Dominic Quintero (junior, bats right, throws right).
Top newcomers: Outfielder Jim Ayala (junior, bats right, throws right) and pitcher/catcher Henry Monreal (junior, bats right, throws right).
Outlook: The Trojans were tied for first in the Metro-Mesa League last season until they had to forfeit nine games because of an ineligible player.
Many of the players return, though Moreno and Joe Heredia are the only seniors. Korzep said that experience will help them this season.
"They got their feet on the ground last year," Korzep said. "I think that's paying off this year. They've been through it all."
The Trojans are deep in pitching. Monreal has an earned-run average below 1.0 and pitched five scoreless innings against Morse Friday. Palos has lost two games, but the losses came against Santana and Serra, two of the county's top teams. Castle Park is 6-4 this season after a 3-2 loss to Morse Friday.
Last season's record: 3-9-1, 7-12-1
Coach: Ron Smock
Top returners: Outfielder Noia Duhala (junior, bats right, throws right), first baseman Steve Lucal (junior, bats right, throws right), pitcher/third baseman J.D. Douglas (junior, bats right, throws right) and shortstop Tom Jarvis (senior, bats right, throws right).
Top newcomers: Catcher Johnny Johnson (sophomore, bats right, throws right) and second baseman Bill Pate (sophomore, bats right, throws right).
Outlook: Jarvis is the Islanders' only senior, so Smock said he doesn't expect that much this season. But the coach said he has been encouraged by the Islanders' hitting and the play of Johnson and Pate.
In the Lions tournament, the Islanders had 19 hits against Christian in a 10-4 win. However, Coronado had to forfeit because it took batting practice before the game. The Islanders won their next two tournament games.
Smock said Pate is hitting .420 and Johnson is near .400.
Last season's record: 9-4, 17-7
Finish: Second (Metro-Mesa League)
Coach: Alex Santana
Top returners: Second baseman/pitcher Mike McCormack (senior, bats left, throws right) and outfielder Ted Maxwell (senior, bats right, throws right).
Top newcomer: Center fielder Eddie Vega (junior, bats left, throws left).
Outlook: The Mariners won two of three games in the Lions tournament A Division (losing only to second-place Lincoln), but have a 4-4-2 record.
Mar Vista led the Metro-Mesa League most of last season, until dropping into second place on the final day. Maxwell and McCormack are the only seniors returning from that team.
Last season's record: 3-10, 5-14
Coach: George Milke
Top returners: Pitcher/outfielder Mark Cisneros (senior, bats right, throws right), left fielder Pat Whelan (senior, bats right, throws right) and catcher Hank Kalakauskis (senior, bats right, throws right).
Top newcomer: Second baseman Sammy Guevarra (junior, bats right, throws right).
Outlook: The Crusaders are 2-8, but first-year Coach George Milke said they could have a better record with a little better defense.
"We're not making the routine plays," said Milke, who was an assistant at Lincoln the last two years. "We're averaging four errors a game. We've only been blown out of one game (a 9-3 loss to Clairemont in the Lions tournament). If we don't play defense, we don't stand a chance. It takes a lot of practice and fungoes (to get better)."
Cisneros has been the offensive leader so far, batting .570 with three homers. "He has a quick bat and he can hit for power," Milke said. "If everybody could emulate Mark at bat and in the field, we'd be in great shape."
Last season's record: 5-8, 7-14-1
Coach: Rex Whitehead
Top returners: Shortstop/catcher Alex Sanchez (senior, bats right, throws right), first baseman/pitcher Paco Silva (senior, bats right, throws right) and second baseman Alfonso Silva (junior, bats left, throws right).
Top newcomers: Pitcher Jose Leano (junior, bats right, throws left) and outfielder Enrique Dora (junior, bats right, throws right).
Outlook: The Raiders, who are 4-4 this year, return eight starters from last year's team. Whitehead said he's not sure if that's good or bad.
"I pitched everybody and anybody last year," Whitehead said. "A lot of the guys would say, 'I'll pitch if you want me to,' but they really didn't want to. That was a problem."
Whitehead may have found a pair of pitchers this year. Though he had some reservations about Robert Carrillo and George Castro, who are both 5-6 and 130 pounds, they have done well so far. Carrillo, who pitched a three-hitter against league-champion Chula Vista last season, is 1-1 and Castro is 1-0. Whitehead hasn't allowed either to throw more than five innings.
Alfonso Silva has provided most of the early-season offense. Silva was 9 for 14 with 10 RBIs before missing the last two games with a knee injury. Whitehead said the injury probably isn't serious and Silva will play next week.