No. 5 Mater Dei on lofty perch
No. 5 Mater Dei Monarchs (Santa Ana, Calif.)
State Association/League: CIF Southern Section Division 1/Trinity League.
Head Coach: Burt Call (13th season as head coach).
2011 Results: 24-6 overall record; Trinity League Champions (13-2); lost in quarterfinals of CIF playoffs.
Key Losses: INF Blake Thomsen (Princeton), C Ryan Teel (Nevada)
Top Returning Players: Sr. OF/RHP Ty Moore (UCLA), Sr. OF/RHP Ryan Barr (Portland), Jr. C Jeremy Martinez (USC), Jr. LHP Aaron Cross (Arizona).
Notable Matchups: March 1 vs. Bishop Amat @ Elks Tournament @ Mater Dei; March 28-31 @ USA NHSI Tournament @ Cary, N.C.; May 1 vs. JSerra; May 4 @ JSerra.
During his first 12 years as the head coach at Mater Dei High School, Burt Call moved the tradition-rich Monarchs program to an even loftier perch than the one it already occupied.
The 1980 Mater Dei team won a California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section Championship – California does not hold a state tournament – but another section title eluded the Monarchs until a Call-coached team won in 2005. The title drought wasn’t nearly as long the next time around, as Call and the Monarchs won another CIF Southern Section Division 1 championship in 2010.
Don’t be surprised if a third championship is in the offing as Call begins his 13th season at the Santa Ana high school.
Mater Dei won its seventh league title in 12 years under Call in 2011 and finished 24-6 after losing to Esperanza in the quarterfinal round of the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs. The Monarchs enjoyed winning streaks of 10 and seven games during the course of the season and racked up a 13-2 record in Trinity League play.
Seven starters are back from a lineup that batted .356 and averaged 10 hits and seven runs a game, and a pitching staff that compiled a 2.65 team ERA.
With all that returning firepower in the lineup and on the pitcher’s mound, the Mater Dei Monarchs open the season ranked No. 5 in the Perfect Game 2012 Preseason National High School Rankings. They finished No. 52 in the final 2011 National Rankings.
“We’ve got a good nucleus coming back … and we feel pretty good about where our team is right now and what they can do,” Call told Perfect Game. “We know they’ve set high goals for themselves and I think they’re prepared and ready to enter the season. The guys are excited about getting out and playing some games and competing.”
Mater Dei seniors Ty Moore and Ryan Barr have already signed letters-of-intent with NCAA Division I universities – Moore with UCLA from the Pac-12 Conference and Barr with the University of Portland from the West Coast Conference.
Moore is a 6-foot, 190-pound outfielder/right-handed pitcher who Perfect Game ranks as the No. 49 national top prospect in the class of 2012 and the No. 287 overall prospect in the 2012 MLB Draft. He hit a team-high .510 (51-for-100) last season, and was the team-leader in hits (51), on-base percentage (.581), doubles (13), runs (39) and RBI (37).
Moore was also the Monarchs’ most effective pitcher, finishing 10-2 with a 3.16 ERA with 55 strikeouts in 75 1/3 innings. Although he is projected as a position player at the next level, Call liked his contributions from the mound.
“He won 10 games for us last year and we expect him to come in and pitch well for us this year,” Call said. “We have a little bit more depth at pitching than we did last year and I think that will help us from game-to-game with the transition. But, yeah, it does start with Ty, who is our emotional and team leader both offensively and especially on the mound, too.”
Second baseman Austin Monte joins Moore and Barr as the only other returning senior starter.
A talented junior class is led by the return of starting catcher Jeremy Martinez, a 5-11, 195-pound backstop who PG ranks as the nation’s No. 9 overall top prospect and No. 2 catching prospect in the class of 2013. Martinez, who has committed to Southern California, hit .388 (33-for-85) with seven doubles, four home runs, 32 RBI and 22 runs scored during his sophomore campaign at Mater Dei.
Other juniors who were starters as sophomores last year include outfielder Austin Grebeck, corner infielder Davis Tominaga and shortstop Ryan McMahon. The Monarchs will also be helped by the return of junior left-hander Aaron Cross, an Arizona commit who missed all of 2011 with an unspecified injury. Grebeck is the son of former major league middle-infielder Craig Grebeck.
“Offensively, we’re very balanced up and down the lineup,” Call said. “There’s not an easy out in our lineup, especially with our seven returning starters and our two best hitters (Moore and Martinez) coming back.”
Mater Dei opens its season at home on March 1 against traditional power and long-time rival La Puente (Calif.) Bishop Amat as part of the prestigious Elks Tournament. It will also take part in the week-long, 16-team USA NHSI Tournament in Cary, N.C., at the end of March.
“We thought that would be great competition and our kids would really thrive in that environment and want to do well,” Call said. “We’re going out there to compete and see how we match up with the other top teams from across the nation.”
The Mater Dei program has produced some top-notch players through the years and currently has three alumni playing in the major leagues: Danny Espinosa (Washington Nationals), Sergio Santos (Toronto Blue Jays) and Matt Treanor (Los Angeles Dodgers).
Another noteworthy Mater Dei alum is outfielder Cory Hahn, a 2010 graduate who was named California’s 2010 Mr. Baseball. Hahn was drafted in the 26th round of the 2010 MLB First-Year Player Draft by the San Diego Padres, but ultimately honored his commitment to attend Arizona State.
Tragedy struck on just the second day of Hahn’s collegiate baseball career when he suffered a spinal cord injury while sliding head-first into second base and was left paralyzed from the chest down. His recovery continues, and the Mater Dei community has played a large role in fund-raising efforts to aid Hahn and his family in that recovery.
With Hahn still very much in their thoughts, this year’s Mater Dei players are intent on turning in a championship-caliber season, just like the one Hahn experienced in 2010.
“They’ve set pretty high goals for themselves and they’re realistic about how they go about it and approach it, and I don’t think they’re looking too far in front – they’re just going to … focus in on that first game,” Call said. “They’re level-headed kids and they’re pretty grounded and I think they’ll be very successful.”
But are they the fifth best team in the country?
“I don’t know about top-five nationally, but this team was very successful last year with having seven underclassmen starting and the core players coming back, and I think they have the potential to finish the season in the top five in the nation. They do have that talent,” Call said. “We do need some breaks to go our way to reach that, but I think this group has that potential to be one of the top teams in the nation, especially with our schedule and the number of quality teams we play.”