In January I spoke with several professional scouts and college recruiters about their thoughts on the best teams in Orange County. The overwhelming opinion was there was no single dominant team, rather several very good teams in the area.
Five weeks into the regular season and that opinion has been disregarded. After losing the opening game of the regular season, the Mater Dei Monarchs (Santa Ana, Calif.) have won 14 straight games. During that stretch Mater Dei won the prestigious National High School Invitational for a second consecutive season, and the inaugural Boras Classic.
According to scouts, the big question for the Monarchs coming into the season was their pitching. Those questions have been erased the last two weeks as Mater Dei won eight games in 10 days. Head coach Burt Call had kept the quality and depth of his pitching staff close to the vest prior to the NHSI.
"We as a coaching staff knew we had some depth in the pitching staff," said Burt Call. "What we didn't know is how good these guys (#3 and #4 starters) would perform under pressure."
In the NHSI the Monarchs won games by 7, 1, 9, and 4 runs. They got complete games from Davis Tominaga, Aaron Cross, and Jacob Erickson. The latter coming in the championship game.
After arriving late on Sunday night from North Carolina, the Monarchs got Monday off before beginning play Tuesday in the Boras Classic.
In their first game of the Boras Classic against Hart (Newhall, Calif.), the Monarchs gave up five runs in the first inning. Never ones to press, they bounced back with a 6-5 victory. The pitching staff would give up only three runs in the next three games en route to the SoCal bracket title.
"It's been a whirlwind the last couple weeks," said Call. "It's great to get out and play quality baseball and win a couple tournaments."
Aaron Cross and Jacob Erickson each threw another complete game in the Boras Classic. Erickson was of the shutout variety in the championship game of the SoCal bracket. The two seniors have overcome obstacles en route to earning their opportunities this season.
Cross was a standout on the freshman team before battling injuries the last two seasons. During the past year he has worked tirelessly to get back into shape. A strong summer helped him land a scholarship offer from the University of Arizona where he'll attend upon graduation.
"He's overcome so much in the last 18 months," said Call. "We knew he was a competitor and we knew what kind of pitcher he was. I'm just so proud of him for what he's overcome."
Erickson's story is a bit different. The left-hander didn't have many opportunities to crack the lineup last season and appeared to be on the outside looking in this season in terms of playing time. The senior threw just two innings last year and ended with 7.00 ERA. There wasn't much room for optimism headed into the season but the senior landed a spot in the Monarch bullpen.
As the fourth starter for the Monarchs, Erickson threw back-to-back complete game shutouts in championship games of the NHSI and the Boras Classic. The southpaw racked up 20 strikeouts combined in those two starts.
"Jacob has worked so hard to get where he is," said Call. "He's been in a reliever role for us but has really answered the call in his two starts these last couple of weeks."
Mater Dei gets back to work in the Trinity League this week as they take on Servite (Anaheim, Calif.).
The Monarchs also have a new game to add to the schedule. They'll face Pleasant Grove (Elk Grove, Calif.) in the championship game of the Boras Classic that pits the winners of the SoCal and NorCal brackets in a defacto state championship.
"I love it," said Call. "We just love to compete and play baseball."
The way the Monarchs are playing right now, you can understand the coach's enthusiasm.