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Loaded with talent, Huntington Beach starts journey toward greatness
Huntington Beach is the defending champion in CIF-Southern Section Division 1.
That carries plenty of pressure. Add to that the designation of being the No. 1 high school baseball team in the nation, and that pressure is akin to being 300 feet below sea level. The Oilers are the country’s No. 1 team in preseason rankings compiled by, among others, Baseball America and The Sporting News.
“Huntington Beach is the best high school team I’ve ever seen,” said John Weber, in his 11th year as the coach at Cypress.
Another coach commented recently that Huntington Beach should skip the CIF-SS playoffs “and go straight to the College World Series in Omaha.”
Huntington Beach coach Benji Medure said his players will have to show they can handle the expectations.
“But I think we had an equal amount of it last year,” said Medure, in his 16th season as Oilers coach. “We were the No. 5 team in the nation and felt all that pressure. We choked at the beginning and started 2-5.
“I hope we don’t feel it again this year because we went through it last year and we learned from it.”
A few of the players on the Oilers roster were on the Ocean View Little League team that won the Little League World Series in 2011. So being in the spotlight is not unfamiliar.
Eight Huntington Beach players have signed with or committed to NCAA Division 1 programs.
Junior right-hander Hagen Danner, the Sunset League pitcher of the year and All-Orange County first team last season, committed to UCLA. Other college-bound Oilers include senior third baseman/pitcher Logan Pouelson, who was All-County second team in 2015, signed with the Bruins; senior outfielder Landon Silver, All-O.C. first team in ’15, signed with UC Santa Barbara; and senior outfielder Dominic Abbadessa, another All-O.C. second-team returnee, signed with Long Beach State.
If that wasn’t enough returning talent, the Oilers pitching staff got quite the offseason boost from a pair of transfers.
Nick Pratto transferred in from Mater Dei. The junior left-hander, who committed to USC, was a star on that 2011 Little League team, and this past summer he was MVP for Team USA at the World Baseball Softball Confederation world championships. Pratto will have to sit out the first month of the season because he did not make the change of residence that would have made him immediately eligible after his transfer.
Cory Moore was All-Citrus Belt League last season at Yucaipa. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound junior left-hander is committed to Santa Clara.
With such talent on the roster, of course the expectations are in the stratosphere.
“Our philosophy is ‘don’t be afraid to lose,’” Medure said. “We’ll give it our best and live with that.”
The Oilers will give it their best against a challenging schedule.
The Oilers played Orange County’s No. 3 team, Orange Lutheran on Monday, and over the weekend played O.C. No. 8 Aliso Niguel in a doubleheader. They play a doubleheader against the county’s No. 2-ranked team, JSerra, on March 15.
Then comes two outstanding tournaments: the National High School Invitational that annually attracts some of the country’s top teams to North Carolina, March 23-26; and the Boras Classic, played locally, March 29-April 1.
Huntington Beach begins play in the Sunset League, which again will be among Orange County’s better leagues, in early April.
“If we can make it to league at .500,” Medure said, “I’ll be a happy man.”
Around the horn in Orange County baseball:
• Other teams considered for the O.C. season-opening top 10: Beckman, Capistrano Valley, Corona del Mar, Edison, El Dorado, El Toro, Esperanza, Fountain Valley, Mission Viejo, Newport Harbor, San Clemente, Tesoro and Tustin.
• The season begins with the two of the season’s better tournaments, the Loara and Newport Elks tournaments. Schedules for both tournaments are at ocvarsity.com. Loara tourney schedules and results will be at loara.usapremiersports.com. Newport Elks tournaments and results will be at newportelks.usapremiersports.com.
• Jack Owen, an All-O.C. second-team pitcher at JSerra last season as a junior, is not playing high school baseball, according to JSerra coach Brett Kay. Owen is playing travel ball and remains enrolled at JSerra.
• Mission Viejo is the county’s other defending champion The Diablos won the Division 2 title in 2015.
• The CIF-SS championship games will be played June 4 at two sites. Finals in Divisions 1, 2, 3 and 4 will be played at San Manuel Stadium in San Bernardino. Finals in Divisions 5, 6 and 7 will be at UC Riverside.
• As in other sports, the Century and Coast View conferences divide their baseball teams into two leagues each. In the Century Conference, the Crestview League teams are Canyon, El Dorado, El Modena and Esperanza; North Hills League team are Brea Olinda, Foothill, Villa Park and Yorba Linda. In the Coast View Conference, Sea View League teams are Laguna Hills, Mission Viejo, San Clemente, San Juan Hills and Trabuco Hills; the South Coast League teams are Aliso Niguel, Capistrano Valley, Dana Hills, El Toro and Tesoro.
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