Playoff picture: Like a UPS driver delivering packages on Christmas Eve, the Moorpark Musketeers come through when everything is on the line. Moorpark’s one-game playoff victory over Westlake last Thursday catapulted the Musketeers into the Division I playoffs and sent the Warriors home for the summer.
And what is Moorpark’s reward for such an accomplishment? How about a first-round matchup on the road against Foothill League champion Saugus (23-3, 14-1), currently ranked second in the Los Angeles Times’ baseball poll.
While baseball is the consummate team sport where an individual rarely wins or loses a game single-handedly, Saugus senior first baseman Thomas Milone is the type of athlete who has the ability to take over a ball game at any time. This season, Milone led the Foothill League in batting average (.507), home runs (six) and ERA (.773). Needless to say, Moorpark will have to contain Milone at the plate and must be able to get to him on the mound should he start the game.
"We play (Saugus) a lot in the fall and in the summer," head coach Scott Fullerton said. "They are always well coached. They know how to play the game…Thomas Milone (is) very good. It’s one of those matchups where the team that plays better that day is going to win."
Senior pitcher Brett Hunter is expected to get the starting nod for the Musketeers. With a fastball that has been clocked in the low 90s and the ability to command his off-speed pitches, Hunter could prove to be a perfect antidote to the potent Saugus bats. He shutout a hungry Agoura team, 1-0, a week ago in a game the Chargers had to have to win a Marmonte League title.
Both teams went 3-2 in the Easton Southern California Showdown during mid-March, although they did not face one another.
The X-factor in a Musketeers’ playoff run will clearly be the team’s ability to produce runs. Moorpark has the bats to do it in guys like Cody Dee, Nick Dingman and Justin Bogoyevac, but they have to prove they can do it against the best pitching the Southern Section has to offer.
The winner of Friday’s game, scheduled to start at 3:15 p.m., will take on the winner of Los Alamitos (Sunset League, No. 2) versus San Clemente (South Coast League, No. 2) Tuesday afternoon at a site to be determined.
Oaks Christian Lions (9-17, 6-6, third in Frontier)
First-round opponent: L.A. Baptist (18-3, 7-1), away
Playoff picture: It’s been a long season for the Lions as they learn to adjust to a new coach and system and cope with the graduation of a handful of key players, including three All-CIF selections. But as fate would have it, Oaks Christian has found itself back in the Southern Section playoffs with one long shot at redemption, and they’re looking to make the most of that opportunity.
"The playoffs are a whole new season. It’s like you’re playing the first game of the year," said first-year head coach Mike Maio, who led El Camino Real to a CIF Div. I championship in xxxx. "Some teams had a great season, some had poor ones, but when you get into the playoffs everyone is even. It’s the same for everybody, lose, and you go home."
The Lions will send junior Tim Johnston (6-2, 2.25 ERA) to the mound to face Olympic League champion L.A. Baptist tomorrow, a team that scored almost 10 runs an outing this season and hit 19 long balls. The Knights, who took first place in the Paraclete Easter Tournament, will go with one of their two aces: sophomore Colby Hyatt (6-1, 1.12) or senior Graham Miller (8-2).
If they’re going to stay alive to fight another day, the Lions desperately need run production out of the top half of their lineup, guys like senior Chris Auten (.441) and junior Joe Dembesky (30 RBIs). Additional assistance from hitters like senior outfielder Joey Navarro and junior shortstop Jimmy Dunn will be a huge help to try and offset the team’s lack of depth in the pitching staff.
But the key for Oaks Christian will be defense, an Achilles’ Heel for the team all year long. The Lions had 56 errors this season, which breaks down to a little more than two a game.
Johnston is going to need better help than that behind him if the Lions are hoping to turn any heads in the Div. V playoffs.
The winner of Friday’s game will play either Bell-Jeff (Santa Fe League, No.1) or Fillmore (Tri-Valley, No. 3).
Oak Park Eagles (18-5, 10-2, tied for first in Marmonte)
First round opponent: Mary Star of the Sea (15-10, 9-3)
Playoff Picture: Is this the breakthrough season for the Oak Park baseball program, which despite countless league titles over the last ten years has yet to reach a Southern Section title game? (check)
Some close to the team think so.
Their evidence comes in the form of the Eagles’ stellar regular season record and its well-distributed wealth of talent that takes shape up and down the lineup. Unlike many squads who have an abundance of hitting and a lack of pitching, or vice versa, Oak Park prides itself on having the ability to beat opponents either from the stretch or with the aluminum. They’ve won games 20-2 and 15-1, as well as 2-0 and 5-0.
Tomorrow the Eagles are at home against Mary Star of the Sea, the Camino Real League’s No. 2 seed. Expect to see returning playoff winner Zach Thornton (10-2, 1.44 ERA) on the mound as the young Eagles look to take no chances getting that first win under their belt.
"The last thing you want to do is go down with your best ammunition still in your gun," said head coach Eric Pryor, who added he hopes the Eagles will be able to get off to a big enough lead so that Thornton can save some of his stuff for what would be next Tuesday’s matchup with either Temple City or Malibu, a team Oak Park beat twice this year.
Critical to Oak Park’s success will be the performance of No. 2 and No. 3 pitchers Brian Kernochan (4-1, 3.33) and Blair Walters (2-2), who will need to hold their own when Thornton is off the mound. Kernochan, a senior, is one of just three players on the Eagle roster with any playoff experience—Thornton and catcher Max Rosenberg are the others.
Offensively, Oak Park’s seems well-equipped to face the quality of arms it will get to see in the postseason. The Eagles’ leading hitters by average are Rosenberg (.389, .547 on-base percentage), Ty Muller (.377, 10 doubles) and third baseman Chad Standrowicz (.356, 31 RBIs), but there are a number of others who have contributed to OP’s production this season.
"I have confidence in everyone that comes up to the plate that they can do something positive," head coach Eric Pryor said.
Though you wouldn’t call them a home-run hitting team, Standrowcz, who hit three home runs in a single game this season, and junior Matt Alexander, have both shown the potential for power.
Circle May 27 as the critical game for the Eagles, who will most likely have to face No. 1 seeded St. Paul on that date in the quarterfinals. St. Paul bumped Oak Park from the playoffs last year, 5-0.