High School : : General
Friday, February 9, 2018

Monarchs, Tosti a perfect pair

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

2018 Pacific Region Preview2018 Perfect Game High School Preview Index

The Vinny Tosti story is a tale of triumph and turmoil, of high times and heartbreak, and also one of patience and perseverance. And, it’s about having the ability to land upright on your feet at one of the best high school baseball environments in the country.

Tosti, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound, fleet-footed, strong-armed outfielder and Perfect Game All-American, is the latest addition to an already prospect-rich roster at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif. He’s literally risen from the ashes to make the Monarchs one of the truly elite teams in the PG High School Pacific Region, which includes schools in California and Hawaii.

There was no skullduggery, or the bending of rules involved in Tosti’s transfer from Santa Rosa Cardinal Newman High School in Northern California to Mater Dei more than 460 miles to the south. He was forced to find a new school under the most unfortunate circumstances.

“I feel pretty blessed; with all that’s happened, just to (end up) in a situation like this is awesome,” Tosti told PG this week. “It’s not the way I would have wanted my senior year to go, I guess, but if I could ask for anything other than what I had before, it would be this.

“It’s a great team, but most importantly they’re great guys and they’ve all taken me in as a part of the team. … I’m really excited for the season and excited to see what we can do on the field.”

The Tosti family lost its home in Santa Rosa when deadly wildfires swept through Northern California the second week of October. Not only was the family home lost – Tosti’s parents are Scott and Vanessa Tosti – but Tosti also lost his school when more than half of Cardinal Newman HS, along with the baseball field, burnt to the ground, None of the Tostis were injured by the fires.

In their aftermath, the school district set-up a split campus with each class (9 through 12) being sent to other buildings within the district. Everything was spread-out over miles and Tosti was looking at a long daily commute just to get to school, so he started entertaining the idea of transferring.

“(The family was) kind of moving around a lot right after the fire, so there was no real structure for me, and it was really hard to stay on top of school and sports at the same time,” he said. And he knew some of the players at Mater Dei.

It was November 8 when Tosti attended his first day of classes at his new school; that was also the day he signed his national letter of intent with the Oregon Ducks.

Originally from Long Beach in Southern California – the family moved to Santa Rosa in 2014 – Tosti said had he continued to live there, there was a good chance he would have attended Mater Dei right from the get-go. It’s been a four-year wait, but head coach Burt Call’s Mater Dei Monarchs program has Tosti on its roster, after all.

“He’s been great; he’s a great kid and a great athlete,” Call told PG. “Our team has embraced him and his family, and he’s had a great positive influence on our team. I expect him to step right in and have a great season.”

Although the infamous Santa Ana winds are frequently indicted for their role in spreading Southern California wildfires, the city of Santa Ana and Mater Dei High School were untouched by the devastating and deadly flames that swept through the region in December. Fortunately for Tosti, the firestorm nightmare wasn’t repeated for a second time in two months.

His parents are now living in the Northern California town of Windsor, located about nine miles north of Santa Rosa. Tosti is living with the family of his teammate Maxwell Foxcroft in Newport Beach, where he’ll remain the rest of the school year. “Everything’s good,” he said.

… … …

MATER DEI HIGH SCHOOL, A CALIFORNIA INTERSCHOLASTIC FEDERATION (CIF) Southern Section Division 1 program, is coming off a 2017 season when it finished 24-13 overall after advancing to the semifinal round of the CIF Southern Section D-1 Championships. It finished 9-6 in the brutal Trinity Baseball League, a mark that was good for a second-place tie with JSerra Catholic in the final league standings; both trailed 11-4 St. John Bosco.

The Monarchs graduated 12 seniors from that team, including catcher Blake Hunt, a second-round pick of the San Diego Padres in last year’s MLB June Amateur Draft.

But they return just as much if not more firepower than they lost with six position players back that saw action in at least 26 games last spring. Also back are two junior right-handed pitchers who combined to go 5-1 with a cumulative 2.58 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 38 innings. Mater Dei starts the season in the No. 10 slot in the Perfect Game High School Preseason Top 50 Rankings.

Shortstop Emilio Rosas (No. 54-ranked 2018, Southern Cal signee), outfielder Grant Burton (No. 172, Stanford) and second baseman Maxwell Foxcraft (No. 477, Oregon) are the top upperclassmen back for their senior seasons; Rosas and Burton are four-year varsity performers.

“I think it’s huge just having that senior leadership,” Call said. “They’ve been around big games during their four-year career, and they know kind of what to expect and how to deal with adversity.”

Catcher C.J. Rodriguez (No. 102 2019, Vanderbilt), corner-infielder Joey Nicolai (No. 326, San Diego) and infielder Chad Call (No. 443, uncommitted) are the top returning junior position players. The junior right-handers Hunter Cope (No. 70, San Diego) and Cameron Wheeler (t-500, UC Irvine) are the aforementioned junior righties; Hunter Cranton (No. 145, Arizona), another junior right-hander, should also step-up.

“It’s a pretty talented team and still very close with good team chemistry,” Call said. “It’s been fun to start coaching them and getting them ready for the season, and they have high expectations of themselves. I think it’s a great environment for them to develop and grow and push each other; I’m looking forward to a great season.”

Burt Call is beginning his 19th season as the head coach at Mater Dei, which is certainly long enough to be described as an era. His first season in 2000 didn’t produce a league championship but that drought last all of one seasons as the Monarchs won five straight Serra League championships from 2001-05; the 2005 team won a CIF Southern Section championship.

Mater Dei won its first Trinity League championships under Call’s direction in 2007, and the Monarchs won two more Trinity titles in 2011 and 2013. They won the CIF Southern Section D-1 championship in 2010 despite finishing second to Orange Lutheran to Orange Lutheran that year.

That catalogue of championships certainly speaks to the amount of winning the Monarchs have done since Call took over, although it should be noted that the program also won a CIF championship in 1980 and a combined 18 Angelus League/South Coast League titles from 1968-1999.

When Call first brings a new team together for the first time at the start of the season, his message is a simple one:

“I basically try to tell them three things: Be a good teammate, be coachable and give 100 percent effort; those are kind of our three absolutes in our program,” he said. “If you can be a good teammate, you’re building team chemistry; if you’re coachable and you can put good ideas together and then you give 100 percent effort, everything else will fall into place.”

… … …

FOR MOST OF THE LAST TWO DECADES MATER DEI’S CALLING CARD has been its affiliation with the Trinity League, a grouping of six Southern California schools that is generally regarded as being among the most competitive prep baseball leagues in the entire country.

The programs joining Mater Dei in the configuration are JSerra Catholic (San Juan Capistrano), Orange Lutheran (Orange), St. John Bosco (Bellflower), Santa Margarita (Rancho Santa Margarita) and Servite (Anaheim); Orange Lutheran is No. 6 and Servite No. 32 in the PG HS Preseason Top 50 Rankings.

“We always say it’s the best league in the nation with the quality of the (programs) and the quality of the kids,” Call said. “They’re so talented … and even though they’re an opposing player to you, after they’re done playing they always come over and talk to you. There’s a very mutual respect between each other’s teams and the players that have played in the Trinity League.”

Playing a 15-game league schedule every season toughens the Trinity teams and prepares them for the rigors of postseason play. Playing a regular-season schedule that offers the same intensity as the playoffs is yet another reason Tosti can’t wait to get things started with his new teammates.

“I’m somebody who really embraces the (high-level) competition, so the better competition I can play against day-in and day-out … I think it’s going to make me a lot better,” he said. “It won’t change my mindset at all. Going into a game I’m always really focused, and while I still love the competition I don’t think it’s going to change the way I play or anything like that.”

Royce Lewis graduated from JSerra Catholic last year and a couple of weeks after receiving his diploma, the Minnesota Twins made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 MLB June Amateur Draft. In the weeks before the start of his senior season, Lewis – who played for Mater Dei alumnus Brett Kay at JSerra – shared with PG his thoughts on playing in the Trinity League:

“Winning the league championship is always one of our main goals because that’s probably one of the hardest things you can do, especially in Southern California,” he said. “The talent in our league is just amazing.”

The peril provided by the Trinity League schedule isn’t the only battle for bragging rights the Monarchs will take on this spring. They will welcome all challengers at the So Cal-based Boras Classic in mid-March and have once again been invited to the prestigious USA Baseball National High School Invitational (NHSI) in Cary, N.C., March 28-31.

Mater Dei won the NHSI in both 2012 and ’13, the first two years it was held; it beat fellow So Cal entry Harvard-Westlake in both championships games. California has had at least one team in the championship game all six years and five of the six have featured two Cali schools; the Trinity League’s Orange Lutheran won last year’s title.

“A lot of these (players) have been with me for a number of years now, and I think they’re prepared to have a great season,” Call said. “They’re looking forward to representing Mater Dei in the Trinity League and into the NHSI. They’re excited about the season and they’re talented enough to make the most out of those experiences.”

Added Tosti: “That’s something I’ve always wanted to play in ever since I first heard about it. Had I not come down here I obviously wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do that … so coming to a school like this and having the opportunity to go out there is awesome. I think we have a really good chance to win the tournament, so it should be exciting; me and all my teammates are really looking forward to it.”

… … …

AS A LONGTIME VETERAN OF BATTLES WON AND LOST ON THE PLAYING fields around the Trinity League Call has some valuable insights he can share. What’s interesting is that he can apply those insights to what he hopes to accomplish as much as he can with the young prospects that have been with his varsity program for four years like Rosas or Burton or are a newcomer like Tosti.

“You’re always learning and developing different ideas,” Call said. “Especially playing in the Trinity League, you learn a lot of different ways of doing things, and that can inspire you to try to do some different things in your program. …

“You need to make sure you’re really progressing, and you do learn something every year about the kids when they’re competing at that high level. It’s fun to have that competition and play against those teams.”

Tosti feels like he’s up to the challenge. He was at last year’s PG National Showcase in Fort Myers, Fla., in June – as were his new Monarchs’ teammates Rosas and Burton – and performed well enough there (6.43-second 60, 92 mph OF velo, 94 mph exit velo) to be selected to play for the West team at the PG All-American Classic in August.

He did, in fact, make the trip down to San Diego to take part in the activities that are a part of the PGAAC weekend, but wasn’t able to play in the game itself after being slowed by an injury.

The All-Americans annually raise money to benefit Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego, and Tosti was among the top fund-raisers, so he felt like he was able to make an impact after all. He lost all of his PGAAC gear in the fire, but PG and partners Rawlings and Nike made sure it was replaced.

The horrific firestorm and its aftermath are behind Tosti now and his focus over the coming months will be on doing everything he can to help the Monarchs achieve their goals of winning championships at the Boras Classic and the NHSI, and in the Trinity League and CIF Southern Section District 1. Everyone seems to be on the same page.

“Every day at practice we’re all pushing each other and feeding off each other’s energy,” Tosti said. “It’s been super easy for me to adjust just because all of the guys are really similar to me; we all feed off each other and make the team a lot better.”

He’s trying to learn everything he can from Coach Call and his teammates and is appreciative of the way he’s been embraced and made to feel welcome. No transition is ever completely seamless but this one has gone about as smooth as anyone could have hoped.

It helps being surrounded by such caring and compassionate teammates who, like Tosti noted, are as passionate as he is about playing the game at the highest level attainable. He is just starting to find out what it means to be a Mater Dei Monarch, and feels right at home.

“He is a very high-character kid with a lot of integrity,” Call said. “I know he had that unfortunate (situation) with the fires up at his house but he’s been handling it very well and drawing on some of those experiences to help his teammates and help himself throughout his life to be able to overcome adversity.”

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