High school baseball is well underway in most southern states and the 2012 season is no exception when it comes to early surprises. While the top-ranked and traditional power programs in California are off to good starts, Huntington Beach High has already grabbed some headlines by starting 5-0 and winning the highly-competitive Newport Elks Tournament.
"It's a pretty good feeling," head coach Benji Medure said. "We caught everybody off guard including ourselves. We were just a normal team a couple weeks ago. Beating (Bishop) Amat and Mater (Dei) put us on the map."
Facing La Puente's Bishop Amat High and Santa Ana's Mater Dei High at any point is a tall task, but the Oilers caught the juggernauts in their second and third game of the season. They proved worthy of the challenge beating Bishop Amat 3-2 and Mater Dei 8-1. Bishop Amat won the Division IV Southern Section title in 2011, beating Palm Desert High. Incidentally, Huntington Beach faced Palm Desert just a few days later and defeated the Aztecs 5-2. Medure says their success has come from an unexpected source.
"Surprisingly, pitching has been our strength so far," he said. "I knew we had solid pitchers, but didn't count on them doing as well as they have. Plus we've been playing good defense. I knew that was going to be good. We've been getting the strikeout and double play in key situations because our pitching has been keeping the ball down."
Medure, who has major league alumni in Tigers righthander Collin Ballester and Angels catcher Hank Conger, said the key for the Oilers moving forward is consistency.
"Obviously, it's baseball and anything can happen," he added. "If we stay consistent we'll be fine. The question is are we going to be able to overcome the little bump in the road?"
The pitching staff has been led by seniors Christian Abe and Shane Grace. Abe, a righthander, is 2-0, 2.33 in 12 innings pitched. Grace, a lefty, is also 2-0 and has yet to give up a run in 11 innings while also recording a save. Adam Daymude a catcher/outfielder, is hitting just .267, but he's made his hits count as three of the four are home runs. Sophomore infielder Jesse Kuet is hitting .538 with seven RBIs.
Oxford Stumbles Early
On the opposite side of the country, in Alabama, Oxford High has experienced adversity early on. The Yellow Jackets were ranked No. 8 in the preseason, but tumbled out of this week's Top 25 after a 9-6 start to the season. While head coach Wes Brooks isn't one to make excuses, his team hasn't exactly been at full strength early and all six losses were by one run.
Outfielder Matthew Goodson, a power-speed threat at the top of the lineup, missed almost two weeks with a pulled hamstring and junior righthander/first baseman Trent Simpson hasn't been cleared to play yet after suffering a stress fracture in his lower back during the football season.
"We need to get healthy and stay healthy," Brooks said. "Plus sometimes when you get ranked high, you get a big head and get set back a little. And the coach gets gray hair. We started great last year, but didn't finish strong. A great start doesn't always mean you'll end well."
Brooks thinks injuries and a very difficult schedule has attributed to a slow start, but the competition isn't going to get any easier. Oxford has 10 games in the next two weeks before traveling north to Cary, N.C. for the USA Baseball National High School Invitational where they'll meet with American Heritage High (Plantation, Fla.) in the first round.
Even though Oxford will have to step things up to get back into the rankings, it hasn't been all bad. Righthander Jackson Stephens threw a two-hit shutout against Spain Park High (Hoover, Ala.) and righthander Tucker Simpson struck out 17 hitters in a complete game victory over Auburn (Ala.) High. The Yellow Jackets also have key victories over preseason No. 47 Russell County High (Seale, Ala.) and last year's 6-A state champion, Hunstville (Ala.) High.
Around The Nation
• Two programs with high expectations for the 2012 season lost their ace in the last week. Righthander Lucas Giolito, also the top high school prospect, sprained his ulnar collateral ligament and will not be back at full strength before the season concludes for Harvard-Westlake High (Studio City, Calif.). In Georgia, Ringgold High lost lefthander Matthew Crownover to Tommy John surgery.
• The NHSI is just around the corner and the first-round matchups were announced last week.
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