Sondheimer: Championship weekend in Southern Section baseball will have lots of drama

There are so many intriguing championship games in Southern Section high school baseball this weekend at Lake Elsinore's Storm Stadium that you should bring a sleeping bag and coffee maker so you don't miss a single pitch over two days and two nights.

"This is what Southern California baseball is about. Wear your finest suit because this is going to be a fun one," Harvard-Westlake coach Jared Halpert said.

Let's start with the Division 1 game at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. It's No. 1-seeded Corona (29-3) and UCLA commit Ethan Schiefelbein taking on No. 2 Harvard-Westlake (27-4-1) and Wake Forest commit Duncan Marsten. That's the best pitching matchup anywhere. Corona has junior players Seth Hernandez and Billy Carlson, who could be top draft picks in 2025. Harvard-Westlake has Bryce Rainer, the Southland's top pro prospect for this year.

The last time a No. 1 seed won the championship was 2002 when Camarillo pulled it off, led by future No. 1 draft pick Delmon Young. That's how difficult it is to be the top seed and find a way to win five consecutive games in one of the toughest single-elimination tournaments anywhere.

Corona has hit five home runs in four playoff games, each one producing decisive moments. There was Carlson's walk-off against El Dorado in a 1-0 opening playoff win. There was Anthony Murphy's sixth-inning home run against Mater Dei that tied the score 1-1 and led to a 3-1, eight-inning win. Carlson followed with two home runs in a 6-4 win over Aquinas. And Hernandez hit a two-run home run in the sixth inning on Tuesday to break a 1-1 tie and give Corona a 3-1 win over Huntington Beach.

There's unlikely to be home runs hit in Lake Elsinore, a pitcher's ballpark. The Panthers will have to adjust. What's remarkable about Harvard-Westlake's presence in the final is that the Wolverines lost their returning ace, Thomas Bridges, in the second game of the season to injury. Others stepped up. Unsung senior Jacob Magna threw four shutout innings in Tuesday's 4-2 semifinal win over Orange Lutheran. Sophomore Jake Chung threw 2 1/3 innings of terrific relief pitching.

Dodgers pitcher Tyler Glasnow, left, side-hugging his high school coach Jim Ozella, wearing a Hart cap and jacket

The Division 2 final at 7:30 Friday night is simply crazy. Hart has refused to let Jim Ozella go into retirement after 25 years as head coach without delivering a championship. The Indians have rallied in several playoff games to make the final against Moorpark, which has never won a title and has a first-year coach in Aaron Garcia. Hart submarine-style pitcher Ian Edwards has appeared in every playoff game, throwing 9 1/3 innings while allowing one run.

In Division 3, neither Beckman nor St. John Bosco were seeded, but strong pitching got them to the final. The Braves made it under first-year coach Andy Rojo. Beckman's Zach Ireland has been dominating on the mound and at the plate like former pitching star James Kaprielian.

In Division 4, St. Francis hadn't been in the playoffs since 2009 but made the final under second-year coach Shaun Kort. The Golden Knights face the difficult task of taking on 6-foot-8 standout pitcher Boston Bateman of Camarillo. Bateman has allowed just nine hits in 58 1/3 innings. St. Francis has faced the top pitchers in the Mission League but expect lots of bunt drills this week.

In Division 5, Santa Monica last won a title in 1973. It has ace pitcher Jackson Klein ready to go. The left-hander has thrown three no-hitters this season and will take on Chino Hills. Sophomore pitcher Brody Buoncristiani is 9-2 with an 0.48 ERA.

There's eight baseball finals, so prepare for two days of drama and excitement.


The Granada Hills softball team finally has the chance to remove the nightmare memory of last season’s City Section Open Division final, when the Highlanders were on the verge of losing to Carson by mercy rule, trailing 10-0, then scoring 10 runs to tie the score before losing 12-11. They will face Carson on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Long Beach State in a rematch.

“I think that championship game definitely left a bitter taste in our mouths,” pitcher Addison Moorman said. “A majority of our team came back. We all have that feeling of that loss but also the potential because we came back.”

Moorman’s pitching has been consistently good all season. “Having a combination of spin and speed has made me productive,” she said.

It also helps to have standout defensive players. In right field, the reigning City player of the year, Jocelyn Jimenez, is so good that Moorman said, “I trust her with my life.” And the catcher, Samantha Esparza, has been Moorman’s battery mate for seven years. That kind of chemistry will be helpful.

In the Southern Section Division 1 final at 7 p.m. Friday at Bill Barber Park in Irvine, No. 1-seeded Orange Lutheran renews its rivalry with No. 2 Garden Grove Pacifica, playing for the third time. Each has won once. The two pitchers, Brianne Weiss of Orange Lutheran and Brynne Nally of Pacifica, both have performed well in big games all season.

And the position players are terrific. Junior outfielder Kai Minor of Orange Lutheran is an Oklahoma commit. When she’s on the bases, good things happen. Senior Kaniya Bragg of Pacifica is a UCLA commit with seven home runs.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.