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High School | Rankings | 2/6/2017

Locked-in Lancers land at No. 1

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Orange Lutheran Baseball

2017 Perfect Game High School Preview Index

No. 1 Orange Lutheran Lancers (Orange, Calif.)

State Association/League: California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Southern Section Division 1/Trinity League

Head Coach: Eric Borba (9th season as head coach)

2016 Results: 22-9 overall, 10-5 Trinity League; CIF Southern Section D-1 playoffs quarterfinals

Key Losses: LHP Chris Burica (Creighton); RHP Luke Mattson (Nevada-Reno); C Aaron Kim (UC San Diego)

Top Returning Players: Sr. OF Garrett Mitchell (UCLA); Sr. INF Tristan Hanoian (Texas Christian); Sr. LHP Jason Farese (U. San Diego); Sr. 1B/RHP Zach Busalacchi (Oregon State); Jr. INF/C Zach Lew (Cal State Fullerton); Jr. C Caleb Ricketts (uncommit); Jr. INF Austin Mowrey (Columbia); Jr. INF Sawyer Chesley (Arizona); So. OF Jasiah Dixon (Southern Cal); So. RHP Evan Adolphus (Cal State Fullerton); Fr. RHP/INF Max Rajcic (UCLA)

Notable Matchups: Feb. 25 vs. Dana Hills at CS Fullerton; March 4 at Huntington Beach; March 29-April 1 vs. National High School Invitational at Cary, N.C.; April 18-April 21 vs. Boras Classic; May 2-3, 5 vs. JSerra Catholic

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head coach, Eric Borba has experienced a lot of winning. During coaching stops at three different schools, he’s notched nearly 370 victories (an average of around 22 per season) and won three California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Section Championships.

Borba has spent the last eight years running the scene-stealing show at Orange (Calif.) Lutheran High School, and compiled an overall record of 160-74-1 at the Southern California school. And that includes a 79-41 mark against fiercely formidable foes from the mighty Trinity League, one of the most highly respected prep baseball conferences in the country.

And while none of those three CIF championship teams Borba coached were wearing the Red, White and Vegas-Gold uniforms of the Lutheran Lancers at the time of the titles, more than a handful of knowledgeable observers expect that to change this spring; some are even predicting bigger things.

Armed with a roster that includes 10 prospects – and there will be many more – from the classes of 2017, ’18, ’19 and ’20 that have signed with/committed to NCAA Division-I colleges, Orange Lutheran will open the 2017 season at the end of this month as the No. 1 team in the Perfect Game High School National Preseason Top 50 Rankings.

“Wow,” was the only word that passed Borba’s lips after learning of the lofty preseason ranking PG had bestowed on his team. He regrouped and then quickly acknowledged the reality of his team performing all season long while carrying the burden high expectations inevitably bring.

And the Lancers will not only have to develop the mindset necessary to stare those expectations down, but do so while trying to maneuver their way through a regular-season schedule that is nothing short of a minefield.

“We know that it’s a gauntlet that we’re going to run through this year, and we understand that rankings don’t mean anything and wins and losses really don’t mean anything until you get to the end of the year,” Borba told PG during a recent telephone conversation.

“But our goal is to win it all,” he said. “We haven’t been able to win a CIF championship at Orange Lutheran yet, and we know that we have a group that can get there. Hopefully those first 25 to 30 games can prepare us for what we’re going to see come the end of May and early June” during the CIF Southern Section D-1 playoffs.

There is ample reason for optimism in the Lancers’ camp this spring. A core group of four seniors – outfielder Garrett Mitchell, infielder Tristan Hanoian, left-hander Jason Farese and first baseman/right-hander Zach Busalacchi – will set the pace (see above for college signings). Mitchell and Hanoian are set to become four-year starters; Busalacchi will be a three-year starter.

And, as is usually the case with a collection of prized talent such as this one, there is a kingpin. In the Lancers’ case, that is Mitchell, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound outfielder who played in last August’s Perfect Game All-American Classic all-star event at Petco Park in San Diego.

He has signed with UCLA but as the No. 20-ranked prospect in the national prep class of 2017, he is also projected as an early round selection in June’s MLB Amateur First-Year Player Draft. PG ranked him the No. 39 overall (college, junior college, high school) draft prospect in a list published in late November, and it's likely he'll climb that chart as the draft draws nearer.

Mitchell has risen to elite status despite having played his entire career with Type 1 Diabetes, an affliction he’s never let get the best of him.

“I really don’t take anything for granted,” Mitchell told PG in August while enjoying himself at the All-American Classic in San Diego. “Life on earth is very precious, and even though (my condition) isn’t life-threatening, I still see it as God has blessed me to help people in a way that others can’t.”

Garrett Mitchell came into our program and we had no idea who he was. He came from one our Lutheran junior highs … and it’s really been fun watching him grow and mature,” Borba added before continuing to talk about his 2017 Lancers.

“We’re really excited about this group and we have quite a few guys who have been with us for a while; these guys have been playing together for a while now,” he said. “A lot of people are putting the expectations very high, which can be expected, but we did graduate a ton of pitching last year; on the mound is going to be our question.”

Left-hander Chris Burica and righty Luke Mattson graduated in 2016 and are now plying their trade at Creighton University and the University of Nevada-Reno, respectively. That dominant duo is going to be difficult to replace after combining to pitch 76 innings and finishing 13-2 with a 0.92 ERA.

Farese, the top 500-ranked U. of San Diego signee, returns to the mound with the most experience after finishing 2-1 with a 2.10 ERA in 33 1/3 innings of work last spring. Busalacchi (1-1, 1.50 ERA) worked 11 2/3 innings from the mound as a junior.

“Really the key for us this year is how we’re going to pitch,” Borba said. “Whether we’re going to be with those top teams at the end of the year is really going to depend on how our pitching steps up.”

Mitchell slashed .299/.382/.413 – nine of his 26 hits went for extra-bases – drove in 11 runs and scored a team-high 19; he also stole 10 bases; Hanoian posted a slash-line of .320/.470/.320

A notable group of seven underclassmen will also be counted on heavily if the Lancers’ dreams of CIF Section and PG National championships are to be realized (see above for college commitments).

The junior class is led by No. 104-ranked infielder Sawyer Chesley, top-500s infielder/catcher Zach Lew (4 2Bs, 10 RBI, 16 runs in ’16) and infielder Austin Mowrey, and catcher Caleb Ricketts; No. 17-ranked outfielder Jasiah Dixon is the star of the sophomore class.

Dixon, a 6-foot, 155-pound, 15-year-old USC commit, led the team in home runs (3) and stolen bases (11) as a freshman and was among the team leaders in RBI (11); he is also a Team USA member. Freshman Max Rajcic, who Borba said has his fastball reaching into the mid- to upper-80s, is going to start out as the team’s closer.

Borba took over the program at Orange Lutheran before the start of the 2009 season after five very successful years as head coach De La Salle High School in Concord, Calif. He took DLSHS to a CIF championship game in three of his five years there, and won state titles in 2005 and 2007. He also previously coached at Analy High School in Sebastopol, Calif., and led the Tigers to a CIF championship in 2000. The man is a proven winner.

Upon his arrival at OLHS, the first thing Borba set out to do was create a family environment inside the program. He wanted his players to not only develop and grow their games in an atmosphere of trust with a sense of belonging, but to do so while competing at the highest level possible. This a private school affiliated with the Lutheran Church, and Borba is steadfast in his priorities.

“It’s going to be a Christian environment,” he said of his program. “We spend a lot of time building Christian character, doing devotions; spreading the word. We just feel that baseball is an arena that God’s given us to display the skills he’s blessed these kids with.

“High school baseball (will provide) some of the most memorable years these kids are going to have, and we want them to experience that to its fullest,” he continued. “We’re big on community … and our parents are heavily involved in our program. We understand it’s a community … and we really want to build a team.

If for no other reason than its location in Southern California, OLHS will (as always) face a killer schedule in 2017. As an example, it has three Trinity League games scheduled with nationally ranked and defending league champion JSerra in early May, and that’s near the end of the season.

Before that, the Lancers play at the elite USA Baseball National High School Invitational in Cary, N.C., in late March and then take part in the California-based powerhouse Boras Classic event in mid-April. Borba follows the popular line of thought that follows if a program wants to have its name included in any discussion that involves being among the best-of-the-best, it is important to schedule head-to-head games against other programs included in that discussion.

“We’re not worried about our record at the end of the year or how many wins we have,” he said. “It’s really about the experience for these kids – high school baseball is about a lot more than wins and losses.

“It’s about giving them the opportunity to go and play against the other players you read about day-in and day-out.” As an example, Borba points out that the Lancers will face Dana Hills and PG All-American nationally No. 1-ranked right-hander Hans Crouse in their season-opener Feb. 25.

That opener is less than three weeks away, and everyone in the Orange Lutheran baseball community is especially excited about the two-month journey that awaits the team. The Lancers seem destined to do a lot of winning this spring, but they’re also confident enough in their abilities to know they will bounce back strong from an inevitable set-back or two.

Regardless of wins and losses, and regardless of what that No. 1 preseason ranking turns into when the season is completed, Borba knows he will be a winner in the end.

“The relationships that they build with each other and then watching these guys mature are the two things that I really cherish,” he concluded. “These guys really love the game of baseball and they’re together I don’t know how many hours a week. Just the experiences and the relationships you build with these kids, that’s what it’s all about and that’s why I coach high school baseball.”

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