Prep Rally: This baseball season won’t be locked out
Hi, and welcome to another edition of Prep Rally. My name is Eric Sondheimer. The high school baseball season begins this week. I’ve put together preseason top 25 rankings and a profile on Harvard-Westlake’s Toussaint Bythewood, a UCLA-bound senior who’s the reigning Mission League MVP.
Player on the rise
When your parents are film directors and volunteer to help put together a sports highlight video, you don’t just say, ‘“Yes.”
You scream, “Yes!”
Toussaint Bythewood of Studio City Harvard-Westlake only needed to supply the baseball highlights for the adults in the room to create a masterpiece.
“I always see my parents on the sideline filming with good angles,” he said of his mother, Gina Prince-Bythewood, and his father, Reggie Rock Bythewood.
The truth is Bythewood needs no highlight video after what he accomplished in 2021 as a junior. The reigning Mission League player of the year batted .431 with 10 stolen bases to help Harvard-Westlake finish 29-4 and win the Southern Section Division 1 championship.
What’s most intriguing is how Bythewood seemingly came out of nowhere to make such a huge contribution and continues to develop into what could be a surprise pro prospect in his senior year.
“Everything is above average,” coach Jared Halpert said of the 6-foot-2, 185-pound center fielder. “He has exceptional hand eye coordination, is an exceptional athlete, has above average speed. His power is going through the roof as he’s maturing and packing on more pounds.”
Here’s a profile.
Preseason top 25 rankings
Defending Southern Section Division 1 champion Harvard-Westlake starts out No. 1 in The Times’ preseason top 25 baseball rankings. The Wolverines will have to succeed without sophomore Bryce Rainer on the mound. He went 9-0 as a freshman but the Wolverines are giving him the season off on the mound to preserve his highly regarded arm for the future. He’ll still make impact as an outfielder.
Here is a look at The Times’ preseason top 25 prep baseball rankings for 2022:
Rk. SCHOOL; Comment
1. HARVARD-WESTLAKE; Defending D1 champs still loaded with talent.
2. ORANGE LUTHERAN; If pitcher Louis Rodriguez comes through, beware.
3. HUNTINGTON BEACH; Lots of pitching, led by left-hander Ben Jacobs.
4. SHERMAN OAKS NOTRE DAME; Pitchers headed to UCLA, Stanford, Loyola Marymount
5. CORONA; Catcher Josh Springer is a terrific player.
The Dream Team
High school baseball in the Southland is as good as it gets on a yearly basis. Dozens of players are committed to colleges this season. Pro scouts will be traveling from San Juan Capistrano to Ventura searching for possible MLB draft picks.
Here are is a list of 11 players who start the season as upper-echelon players based on their individual and team contributions last season and offseason development.
Pitcher — David Horn, JSerra, Sr.: Vanderbilt commit ready for big season.
Pitcher — Jaden Noot, Sierra Canyon, Sr.: Oregon commit throws 96 mph fastball.
Catcher — Matt Quintanar, Hart, Sr.: Pepperdine commit is a hitting machine.
Catcher — Josh Springer, Corona, So.: Hits, fields and leads.
Infielder — Christopher Paciolla, Temecula Valley, Sr.: UCLA commit hit five home runs in 2021.
Infielder — Will Burns, Trabuco Hills, Jr.: Terrific athlete with great arm.
Infielder — Jacob Reimer, Yucaipa, Sr.: Washington commit hit seven home runs.
First base — Jack Gurevitch, S.O. Notre Dame, Sr.: San Diego commit had 39 hits, four home runs.
Outfielder — Toussaint Bythewood, Harvard-Westlake, Sr.: Reigning Mission League player of the year.
Outfielder — Derek Curiel, Orange Lutheran, So.: LSU commit had 21 hits as a freshman.
Outfielder — Bryce Rainer, Harvard-Westlake, So.: Will focus on hitting skills after 9-0 season as pitcher.
Committed to Army
When COVID-19 shut down schools and athletic programs in March 2020, Anaheim Servite High football coach Troy Thomas started having players give speeches via Zoom. He’d suggest a word and the player had to put together a presentation.
Little did Thomas or the rest of the team know that defensive back Zion Sims would produce speeches so inspiring he’d be asked to create more.
“We were shocked,” Thomas said. “Once we had one of Zion’s speeches, we wanted to keep going back. Even other kids would be talking about it, ‘Wow, did you hear Zion’s speech?’ He blew our mind. It was so well-written and to the point what we were trying to get out — different lessons that offseason football could teach you.”
Sims wasn’t known as a public speaker. He was a quiet, humble junior, so everyone learned something new. It was the first hint what Sims might become in the future — an officer in the military.
While hundreds of college players are entering their names in the transfer portal, prepared to switch allegiances, Sims has made a commitment that will probably last for the next 12 years. He has signed with Army, which means four years at West Point, five years of active military duty, and three years in the reserves.
Open Division teams announced
The Southern Section released the eight teams selected for the Open Division boys and girls basketball playoffs on Sunday night shortly after Torrance Bishop Montgomery earned its way into the boys’ tournament by winning the Del Rey League championship with a 47-44 win over Playa del Rey St. Bernard.
To no one’s surprise, Corona Centennial and Etiwanda were given the No. 1 seeds in boys and girls, respectively. They have been the top teams for much of the season. Etiwanda is unbeaten and Centennial has lost once.
The eight boys teams: No. 1 Centennial, No. 2 Sierra Canyon, No. 3 Harvard-Westlake, No. 4 Crean Lutheran, No. 5 Damien, No. 6 Santa Ana Mater Dei, No. 7 Sherman Oaks Notre Dame, No. 8 Bishop Montgomery.
The eight girls teams: No. 1 Etiwanda, No. 2 Sierra Canyon, No. 3 Corona Centennial, No. 4 Mater Dei, No. 5 Rosary, No. 6 Orangewood Academy, No. 7 Bishop Montgomery, No. 8 Windward.
Matchups will be announced Tuesday when the remaining divisions are released.
Juju Watkins finally got the chance to face her old school, Windward, last week, and the junior from Sierra Canyon put on a show, scoring 37 points and getting 23 rebounds. Here’s the report.
Fairfax was forced to have its second pause of the season because of COVID-19 protocols, delaying a showdown with Venice to decide first place in the Western League for boys basketball. The two teams are scheduled to end the regular season on Friday at Venice. Fairfax is supposed to resume playing Monday. It means the City Section Open Division playoff seedings remain unpredictable with one week to go.
Venice enters this week with a 9-0 league record and wins over Palisades and Fairfax this week would make the surprising Gondoliers the No. 1 seed for the City Section Open Division playoffs that will be put together on Saturday. Here’s a look at Venice’s sweep of Westchester.
Mater Dei boys’ coach Gary McKnight has won or shared 39 Trinity League championships in 40 years. Mater Dei girls’ coach Kevin Kiernan has won or shared 15 consecutive Trinity League titles and has won 31 league titles in 31 seasons as a head coach.
The Southern Section will announce its complete boys and girls basketball pairings Tuesday. Here’s the link to the final regular season rankings by The Times.
Camarillo’s 25-game girls’ basketball win streak came to an end Friday when Mater Dei inflicted an 83-43 defeat, using a full-court press while making 13 threes. Gabriela Jaquez of Camarillo finished with 32 points in defeat.
Melissa Hearlihy of Harvard-Westlake earned coaching victory No. 800.
Edison’s boys team won the Surf League championship. Here’s the story on a dramatic win over Los Alamitos.
Etiwanda stands out
Hearts pumping, blood rushing through their veins in the pregame locker room before a game, the Etiwanda girls’ basketball players turns to prose.
Not song, not prayer. Each player on the Eagles carries a custom silver dog tag, perhaps clasped around their necks or dangling off their backpacks, all sporting the same word: “Invictus.”
Written by British poet William Ernest Henley in 1875, “Invictus” brings “good energy” and a sense of family to this Etiwanda team, sophomore Kennedy Smith said. In particular, they scream its last two lines before charging onto the hardwood for warm-ups:
“I am the master of my fate! I am the captain of my soul!”
Learned in his college fraternity, Eagles coach Stan Delus has taught the poem to every team he’s coached for 20 years. This Etiwanda group, sitting at a cool 23-0 record, has taken it to heart during an undefeated season they hope ends in with a state championship.
Historic running performance
Newbury Park’s running program is headed for Mt. Rushmore status after senior Colin Sahlman ran the third-fastest indoor mile ever by a high school athlete Saturday in New York.
He finished in 3 minutes, 58.81 seconds at the Dr. Sander Columbia Challenge, becoming only the fourth high school athlete ever to break four minutes for an indoor mile.
“It’s crazy,” Sahlman said afterward by phone while on a visit to the Nike store in New York City. “I’m enjoying today.”
Bound for Northern Arizona, Sahlman was part of the record-breaking Newbury Park cross-country team in the fall and is now showing what he can do in track and field. He beat a field that included collegians and professional runners, recording a final 200 meters sprint in 27.79 to go from fourth to first.
“I hung with the front pack and had them lead me through,” he said.
His performance was another indication what an extraordinary coach Sean Brosnan has become. Brosnan developed 2020 Gatorade national runner of the year Nico Young and now has someone running faster than Young in high school.
Rich Gonzalez, who runs the Arcadia Invitational and PrepCalTrack.com, said of the performance, “As if breaking four minutes as a high schooler isn’t mind-boggling enough, doing it in his first ever indoor race, having to do it in a place like New York, and having to beat every pro and collegian in the race to do it just leaves me shell shocked. He’s a great kid too so it’s awesome for him to experience this. He’s fully deserving of his success.”
Brosnan said the team will return next month to New York to try to break a national indoor relay record and his runners will compete later this month outdoors at a meet at Azusa Pacific.
“It’s amazing,” Brosnan said of Sahlman’s effort.
New pool for Edison
As the United States was putting a man on the moon, Huntington Beach Edison High was putting a pool into the ground.
The Chargers’ swim and dive pools opened along with the school in 1969.
But with a deep end that was, well, pretty shallow at 4½ feet, Edison has been unable to host varsity water polo matches over the decades.
“They were designed for aesthetic reasons, not for practical reasons,” said longtime Edison swim coach Matt Whitmore, who also used to coach water polo. “They were never good for water polo, ever … I think we could have had a great fundraiser, just in the [demolition], by offering former aquatics people a chance to take a sledgehammer to the old pool. That’s how beloved that pool was.”
A new opportunity is upon the Chargers aquatics program: a pool that measures 40 meters long by 25 yards wide, allows for up to 10 lanes of competitive swimming and can accommodate regulation water polo.
Here’s a report on the new pool.
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Officials’ fees proposal
The Southern Section Council was presented with a proposal that would change the way high school sports officials are paid, switching to a flat race based on average amount of time spent officiating. It would begin with the 2022-23 school year if approved later this year.
Officials’ fees typically cover a three-year period. There has been a shortage of officials, so a committee of school district members, principals, athletic directors and officials tried to come up with a fee structure to help attract and retain officials. The current contract gave $1 increases over three years.
Here’s the link to the proposal.
Corona Santiago is reaching peak form in girls’ soccer. The Sharks shut out Riverside King 1-0 to finish 9-0-1 in the Big VIII League. They’ve had seven shutouts in their last eight games.
Birmingham’s David Diaz came through with a huge performance in a 3-1 win over El Camino Real. He scored two goals and had an assist. Here’s a report on the victory. The two teams close out the regular season on Friday at El Camino Real.
Servite appears to be the prime challenger to Mira Costa in Division 1 boys after making it through the Trinity League with no losses.
Cathedral won its 13th consecutive league title.
Southern Section soccer pairings will be released on Tuesday.
Girls’ water polo
El Segundo is having quite a season in girls’ water polo.
Ranked No. 1 in Southern Section Division 4, sophomore Emmie Ramirez has scored more than 100 goals this season.
San Clemente won its third consecutive Southern Section Division 3 dual meet championship in wrestling.
Palm Desert won Division 1 boys with a 37-35 victory over Temecula Valley. Northview won Division 1 girls with a close win over Corona.
Birmingham won the City Section girls’ dual meet championship and won the boys’ title 36-35 over Palisades when Adrian Cano got a pin.
Notes . . .
Offensive lineman Zack Miller of Orange Lutheran committed to Washington State. . . .
Defensive back Mike Hurst from Servite signed with Portland State, which is building a Trinity League all-star team, joining quarterback Logan Gonzalez and lineman Anthony Tena and from Orange Lutheran and defensive back Quincy Craig from Mater Dei. . . .
Running back Troy Fletcher of Edison committed to Cal Poly SLO. . . .
Kicker Chase Meyer of Mater Dei committed to Pennsylvania. . . .
Tight end Thomas Kensinger of Venice committed to Air Force. . . .
Junior defensive back RJ Jones of St. John Bosco has committed to Cal. . . .
Junior baseball player Jackson Kemmerer of Tesoro has committed to Nevada. . . .
The transfer portal is picking up steam in high school football. It’s doubtful if there will be a bigger transfer from a stature point of view than Apple Valley junior lineman Raymond Pulido, who’s 6-7, 340 pounds and headed to St. John Bosco. . . .
Former Mater Dei standout Katie Lou Samuelson has been acquired by the Los Angeles Sparks in a trade with the WNBA Seattle Storm. . . .
Granada Hills pitcher Drew Gustafson has committed to UC Santa Barbara. . . .
Arlis Boardingham, the City Section football player of the year from Birmingham, will announce his college choice on Wednesday. It will be either Florida or Oregon. . . .
El Camino Real retired the uniform of Ryan McGuire, its former All-City baseball player who also starred at UCLA and in the majors. . . .
Junior softball player Fa’atele Jennings of Mary Star has committed to San Diego. She is the sister of Oklahoma’s Tiare Jennings. . . .
Sophomore pitcher/shortstop Levi Sterling of Sherman Oaks Notre Dame has committed to Texas.
From the archives: Steve Smith
It’s Super Bowl week and who better to remember than former Taft High, USC and New York Giants receiver Steve Smith.
He was one of the best athletes to play for Taft in football and basketball. He set state receiving records, then went to USC, where he was All-Pac-12 in 2006. He was drafted in the second round by the New York Giants in 2007.
In Super Bowl XLII, he caught five passes in the Giants’ 17-14 win over the New England Patriots.
Here’s a 2015 story on Smith.
Brother Malcolm, who also played for Taft and USC, was Super Bowl MVP in 20`14.
From the Los Angeles Times, a story on the legacy of former UCLA coach Terry Donahue through a showcase football camp.
From the San Jose Mercury News, a story on how Tom Brady‘s greatness began in the Bay Area during his youth days.
From the Chicago Sun-Times, a story on Sierra Canyon’s dramatic 67-64 win on Saturday night before 9,000 fans in Illinois.
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