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Mid-Week Prep Report
By Alan Matthews
Rancho Bernardo High in San Diego climbed into the top five in the first Baseball America/National High School Baseball Coaches Association in-season poll and appears to be the front-runner as the top team in the state.
Southern California is once again loaded with talent this season and the San Diego area boasts a handful of teams that have drawn consideration for a national ranking.
Many teams posses certain ingredients of the winning formula but Sammy Blalock's fifth-ranked Broncos look like they have the complete recipe for success.
Upperclassmen headline the Broncos' pitching staff, while Rancho Bernardo's lineup is peppered with power hitters and speed.
Senior righthanders Brandon Burke and Chris Boros form a formidable one-two punch atop the starting rotation and have already shown they are capable of pitching effectively against some of the country's top teams.
Burke, a 6-foot-3, 198-pound Fresno State signee, was 11-1, 1.06 as a junior, claiming conference pitcher of the year honors in 2003. The 6-foot-2, 180-pound Boros, a San Diego signee, was 9-2, 2.48 last season.
Rancho Bernardo has benefited from the improvement of another senior righthander, Brian Ozols, who has picked up velocity on his fastball and improved his overall command to assume the No. 3 spot in the Broncos' rotation.
"Our starters are all seniors and we have three solid relievers that are all juniors so the staff sets up pretty good for us," Blalock said.
While Rancho Bernardo has an edge in terms of its experienced pitching depth, seemingly every club on its schedule can run at least one legitimate pitching prospect to the mound. The region is well stocked with good pitchers, making Rancho Bernardo's bid at a national title as difficult as any team's in the country. The San Diego area is widely considered one of the nation's richest regions in terms of top baseball talent, along with South Florida, Orange County California and the Houston area.
"In our league alone, there are some outstanding pitchers," says Blalock. "There are two pitchers at Torrey Pines (High in Encinitas, Calif.) who are very good. Vista (Calif., High) has (senior righthander Andres Esquibel). Rancho Bueno Vista has a couple kids like (senior righthander Mitch) Einerston who are really tough. I mean we're facing a 90-mph pitcher almost every day when you get into league (games). Every one of these guys are draftable kids."
As the Broncos pushed toward the title game of the Hilltop-Lolitas tournament this week, they expected to face the winner of Thursday's Mission Bay of San Diego/El Capitan High of Lakeside, Calif., matchup, two teams very much capable of handing the 4-0 Broncos their first loss. Up next is La Costa Canyon High of Carlsbad, Calif., a club that was 32-1 last year and ranked No. 15 in the first in-season BA/NHSBCA poll.
"We try and relax and execute," Blalock said with a sigh as he contemplated the following week's schedule. "We like playing against the best teams because it's good for (the players') development to be in those kinds off games."
Blalock, who makes a bid at his 600th career win Saturday, has been developing talent for many years. In his 15th season as head coach at Rancho Bernardo and 30th overall as a head coach, Blalock has earned a reputation for producing first-round caliber players, as well as for winning games. His nephew, Hank, established himself with the Rangers last year. Phillies minor league pitching prospect Cole Hamels is another product of Blalock's program and is widely considered one of the top lefthanded pitching prospects in the game.
Hamels was a part of Rancho Bernardo's 2000 team that finished 30-3 and No. 2 in the final BA/NHSBCA as the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) San Diego Section Division I champs. Blalock's Broncos finished in the top 20 the following year, as well as in 2002 and went 27-6 and finished No. 23 last year.
AROUND THE NATION
• Preseason first team All-American outfielder Mike Taylor led Apopka (Fla.) High to the LaGrange Invitational title in LaGrange, Ga., March 13. Apopka knocked off No. 12 Gulliver Prep of Miami 11-4 in the event's championship game. Taylor, a Stanford signee, went 2-for-3 with a home run and a pair of RBIs against Gulliver and was named to the all-tourney team along with Marianna (Fla.) High's Stephen Chapman, among others. Chapman, an Auburn signee, went 5-for-10 with three home runs on the weekend.
• Meridian (Miss.) High pitchers tossed three no-hitters in the first seven games of the season. Senior righthander Ken Mitts tossed a complete-game no-hitter in Meridian's season opener in late-February versus Raleigh (Miss.) High. Two weeks later, Mitts no-hit Quitman (Miss.) High. Sandwiched in between Mitts' bids, junior lefty Kedrick Martin struck out 13 with a walk in five no-hit innings as Meridian defeated Le Flore County High of Itta Bena, Miss.
• Tracy Brumfield was hired as the new head coach at Cabell Midland High in Ona, W. Va. Brumfield inherits a program that is the defending Class 3-A West Virginia champions. He spent the previous 12 seasons as an assistant under his father, George, at Wayne (W. Va.) High where he was named the district assistant coach of the year in 2003 by the High School Baseball Coaches Association.