Graduation is still a week away, but the nine seniors on the Sage Hill School baseball team will venture into the great unknown today.
The Lightning (19-5), which have set a school single-season record for victories, are playing in the CIF Southern Section Division VI quarterfinals for the first time in the program's history. Third-year coach Andy Berglund's team plays host to No. 4-seeded Vasquez of Acton (18-2).
Berglund acknowledged that getting past the second round, where his first two seasons at the helm ended, has put the Lightning in uncharted territory. He also said he was unsure how his players would respond to the biggest challenge or their prep careers.
"As coaches, we've prepared them as best we can and we've shared all the experiences we can to try to give them as much knowledge and confidence as we can," Berglund said. "But, on game day, it's ultimately up to them.
"I know I'll be feeling great when I get to the field, because I love games like this. I'm expecting our guys will be ready to play."
Having won nine straight and 15 of its last 16, Sage has justified such confidence. The Lightning have outscored opponents, 103-11, during the win streak, including a 24-2 advantage in the playoffs.
Sage, hitting .382 as a team, topped Windward of Los Angeles, 3-1, in Tuesday's second round. Windward is the only common opponent between Sage and Vasquez. The Mustangs topped Windward, 11-1, on April 26 to notch the fourth of their eight straight victories. During those eight games, Vasquez, which is also hitting .382 as a team, has outscored foes, 107-15.
The Mustangs, coached by former major league reliever Bob James, needed 13 innings to get past Kern Valley, 9-5, on Tuesday, which may have cut into the availability of their top two pitchers. CIF rules limit pitchers to 10 innings per week.
Vasquez's top two arms are sophomore Brandon Murachanian (10-2, a 1.70 earned-run average and 101 strikeouts in 66 innings) as well as junior Dylan Lohman (5-1 with three saves, a 0.00 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 36 innings).
An unofficial report Berglund received indicated that Lohman threw the majority of the 13 innings, after Murachanian started Tuesday.
Senior A.J. Wolfson will start on the bump for Sage. He is 7-1 with a 1.96 ERA with 62 strikeouts in 54 1/3 innings. He pitched two scoreless relief innings Tuesday, after senior Alex Jiminez (8-2, 1.61 ERA) went five to earn the win.
Wolfson is also among his team's top three hitters. He is batting ,.434 with five home runs and 30 runs batted in.
Additional production for Sage comes from senior catcher Dusty Orrantia (.390 with 32 RBIs) and sophomore second baseman Michael Yorita (.430, including five for nine in the playoffs).
Vasquez is led offensively by senior Shadoe Jewett (.444, five homers, 33 RBIs), and junior Zac McGuire (.526, one homer, 29 RBIs).