The St. Francis Lancers, ranked No. 2 in the country in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25 National Baseball Rankings, are the favorites to win the Hardball 9 National Classic, which gets underway Monday at three locations in Orange County.
The Lancers at 19-1 overall with the only loss coming in West Catholic Athletic League play to Valley Christian (San Jose), which is also participating in the National Classic this week. The Lancers avenged the loss against Valley Christian last week, winning 9-5.
St. Francis is the only team currently in the Xcellent 25 rankings, but there are a number of teams that have worthy credentials. Bingham (South Jordan, Utah) has a win over Xcellent 25 member Spanish Fork while Clovis West (Fresno) picked up a win last week over the No. 8 Xcellent 25 team Buchanan (Clovis).
Meanwhile Cypress is ranked No. 1 in the Southern Section Division 2 rankings and Bishop Amat (La Puente) is ranked No. 1 in the Division 4 coaches poll. Chaminade is another ranked team, coming in at No. 2 in the Division 2 poll.
Arizona sends Sunrise Mountain, ranked No. 2 in the state Class 4A Division I rankings, along with Notre Dame Prep, a relatively new school that has had tremendous success over the past five seasons.
Also from California, defending San Diego Section champion El Capitan will participate along with Los Angeles City Section powerhouse Chatsworth.
From across the country, Christian Brothers (Memphis, Tenn.) will attend along with IMG Academies (Bradenton, Fla.).
Following is a preview of the first round of the tournament, which will be played at El Dorado (Placentia), Esperanza (Anaheim) and Cal-State University Fullerton. The championship game is set for Thursday evening at CSU Fullerton.St. Francis (Mountain View, Calif.) vs. Notre Dame Prep (Scottsdale, Ariz.), 1 p.m. at El Dorado
The Lancers are 19-1 and ranked No. 2 in the Xcellent 25 National Rankings. St. Francis has mowed down WCAL opponents, including a 6-1 win on Friday against Sacred Heart Cathedral in which Ryan Degregorio
picked up his sixth win of the season. Alex Blandino
has been one of the Lancers' top hitters, batting. 536 on the season with three home runs. Notre Dame Prep, one of the top-ranked Arizona teams the past few seasons, has dipped a bit this year at 11-7. Joseph Luvisi
leads the Saints with a .413 batting average that includes 21 RBI and three home runs.Bishop Amat (La Puente, Calif.) vs. Cypress (Calif.), 4 p.m. at El Dorado
After struggling early in the season with losses to Palm Desert and Esperanza, Bishop Amat has been on a roll, winning 15 in a row for a 15-2 record. Included along the way have been wins over Mission Viejo, which began the season ranked No. 1 in the Southern Section, and Chatsworth. The Lancers have one of the nation's top juniors in Rio Ruiz
, who is batting .429 with 21 RBI and two home runs. Daniel Zamora
leads the pitching attack with a 4-1 record. Cypress began the season ranked among the nation's top 50 teams after a strong showing in last year's Southern Section playoffs. After back-to-back losses in mid-March, the Centurions, 15-3 overall, have won 10 in a row.El Dorado (Placentia, Calif.) vs. Bingham (South Jordan, Utah), 4:30 p.m. at CSU Fullerton
Bingham is ranked No. 2 in the state of Utah with an 11-1 record including a 6-2 victory over nationally-ranked Spanish Fork. The only loss for the Miners is a 3-2 defeat against Alta over a month ago. Bingham has won 10 straight since, scoring in double figures in each of its last five games. El Dorado, one of the host schools, is 13-6 overall, including a pair of losses to co-host Esperanza last week. Chris Rivera
has been a force at the plate for El Dorado, batting .326 with four home runs. Trevor Velez
has also hit weel, batting .490 with three home runs.Alemany (Mission Hills, Calif.) vs. El Capitan (Lakeside, Calif.), 10 a.m. at El Dorado
Alemany (Mission Hills) has a 13-7 record, but has won its last five games of the season. The Warriors play in the same league as Chaminade and dropped a pair to their rivals in mid-March, falling 2-0 and 7-6. El Capitan won the San Diego Section Division III championship last year and is 11-4 this season. Tyrone Wiggins
is the leading hitter with a .477 average and four home runs while Troy Conyers
is the team's top pitcher with 33 strikeouts in 23.1 innings pitched.IMG Academies (Bradenton, Fla.) vs. Sunrise Mountain (Peoria, Ariz.), 4 p.m. at Esperanza
An independent school in Florida, IMG Academies is playing its final games of the season because it does not participate in the Florida state playoffs. Sporting a 17-4 record, IMG Academies is home to the sons of several Major League Baseball standouts, including Hutton Moyer
, son of Jamie Moyer, Brandon Bonilla
, son of Bobby Bonilla, and Manny Ramirez Jr., son of Manny Ramirez. Moyer and Bonilla have been members of the varsity team all season while Ramirez has played on the JV team. Bonilla is expected to pitch against Sunrise Mountain. The Mustangs, meanwhile, are 18-2 on the season and are batting .400 as a team. Austin Byler has been a force, batting .520 with 29 RBI and six home runs. Steven Kane leads the pitching staff with a 7-0 mark.Chaminade (West Hills, Calif.) vs. Valley Christian (San Jose, Calif.), 10 a.m. at Esperanza
The Eagles are putting together another strong season, rising to No. 2 in the Southern Section Division 2 rankings with an 11-3 record. Mathew Troupe
has been solid at the plate and on the mound as he sports a .349 batting average and has three wins with 57 strikeouts in 35 innings pitched. The Valley Christian Warriors have been giant killers this year, knocking off Archbishop Mitty (San Jose), which was ranked No. 2 in the country at the time, and St. Francis, which is currently No. 2. Valley Christian is 11-7 on the season and have one of the country's top seniors in Shawon Dunston Jr.
, son of former Chicago Cubs shortstop Shawon Dunston Sr.Esperanza (Anaheim, Calif.) vs. Christian Brothers (Memphis, Tenn.), 7 p.m. at CSU Fullerton
The Aztecs host the tournament along with El Dorado and they have always been able to pull off unexpected wins. Esperanza is 10-7 on the season and has a win over Bishop Amat along with recent wins over El Dorado. Ryan Cooper
tops the Aztecs with a .419 average while Brad Anderson
has driven in 18 runs and is hitting .322. Christian Brothers has already played a West Coast team this year, falling to Valencia in a tournament last week in Tennessee. The Purple Wave are one of the top teams in Tennessee with an 18-3 overall record.Clovis West (Fresno, Calif.) vs. Chatsworth (Chatsworth, Calif.), 1 p.m. at Esperanza
In one of the best first-round matchups, The Golden Eagles, perennially one of the top teams in the Central Section, meets Chatsworth, a perennial champion in the Los Angeles City Section. Clovis West is 13-5 on the season after splitting two games last week with Buchanan, which was ranked No. 8 in last week's Xcellent 25 national rankings. Chatsworth is ranked No. 4 in the Southern California baseball rankings by the Los Angeles Times.