When Max Rajcic gets fired up, watch out. The Orange Lutheran junior pitcher was pumping his fist and turning up the heat on his fastball Tuesday night in a high school baseball game matching the No. 1-ranked Lancers and No. 2 San Juan Capistrano JSerra.
“He turned it up when he needed to. He’s one of the best in the nation,” JSerra coach Brett Kay said.
Rajcic struck out eight batters, including the last five in a row before leaving after the sixth inning in Orange Lutheran’s 2-1 victory, giving the Lancers (18-3, 7-0) a three-game lead over the Lions (13-9, 4-3) in the Trinity League.
As good as his fastball was late in the game, it was Rajcic’s curveball that really left the Lions unable to respond.
“Today I felt I could throw it on any count,” he said.
Blake Klassen gave JSerra a 1-0 lead in the first inning with a home run to left field off Rajcic. The Lancers scored two runs in the third on RBI singles from Jasiah Dixon and Garrett Frechette. Christian Rodriguez came on in the seventh to get the save.
UCLA coach John Savage was busy directing his top-ranked team in a game against UC Irvine. Otherwise he would have surely been at JSerra, since both the starting pitchers are committed to the Bruins. That probably says all you need to know, since Savage is about as good as they come picking out young pitchers with potential and helping develop their skills.
He’ll have to wait another year for Rajcic, a junior, and two years for Luke Jewett, a sophomore who pitched 4 2/3 innings for JSerra.
“He threw great,” Jewett said of Rajcic. “He had four pitches on.”
Rajcic raised his intensity level in the fifth inning when JSerra had two runners aboard. He got USC commit Cody Schrier to strike out on three pitches, the last of which was a high fastball. Then he struck out UCLA signee Michael Curialle to end the threat with a curveball.
“I play with a lot of emotion,” Rajcic said.
Said Orange Lutheran coach Eric Borba: “I thought it was a gutsy performance. The biggest pitches he made were when the game was on the line.”
These two teams might be ranked No. 1 and 2 in early April, but that’s hardly a guarantee of being the teams to beat when the Division 1 playoffs begin next month.
As Orange Lutheran learned two weeks ago in a loss to Sherman Oaks Notre Dame and ace pitcher Lucas Gordon, there are lots of obstacles ahead.
“It tells you how good Southern California baseball is,” Borba said.
Kay said playing the Lancers in a three-game series this week will be a challenge.
“They’re good but we feel we’re good,” he said. “We won the Boras Classic. They won the National High School Invitational.”
It was a well-played game, and the two teams play again Wednesday night at Hart Park in Orange and on Friday night at JSerra.