High School | Rankings | 1/30/2019

No. 4 OL Lancers eye 'next level'

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Max Rajcic (Orange Lutheran baseball)

2019 Perfect Game High School Preview Index

No. 4 Orange Lutheran Lancers (Orange, Calif.)

State Association/League: California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Division 1 Southern Section/Trinity League.
Head Coach: Eric Borba (11th season as head coach).
2018 Results: 25-8 overall; 12-3 Trinity League (champion); CIF D-1 Southern Section semifinals; USA Baseball NHSI champion.

Key Departures: RHP Cole Winn (Texas Rangers); C Caleb Ricketts (U San Diego); SS Zachary Lew (CS Fullerton); LHP Lonnie Morris (UC San Diego).

Key Returners: Sr. OF Jasiah Dixon (USC); Sr. RHP/1B Evan Adolphus (CS Fullerton); Sr. RHP Jonathan Guzman (San Diego St.); Sr. RHP Josiah Castillo (Pepperdine); Sr. LHP (Cal Baptist); Jr. OF Chad Born (Miami); Jr. RHP/SS Max Rajcic (UCLA); Jr. MIF Tank Espalin (USC); Jr. RHP Christian Rodriguez (Miami).

Key Newcomers: Sr. 1B/OF Garrett Frechette (San Diego St.); Sr. C Jared Thomas (Miami); Fr. C/OF Karson Bowen.

Notable Matchups: Feb. 9 at Huntington Beach (2); Feb. 22 vs. Southlake Carroll (Texas) at San Jose; March 12-22 vs. Trinity League play; March 26-29 vs. Boras Classic; April 3-6 vs. USA Baseball National High School Invitational at Cary, N.C.; April 9-25 vs. Trinity League play.


… … …

the schedule the players who will suit up for the Orange (Calif.) Lutheran Lancers will face-down this spring.

“If you look at our strength of schedule this year, I can’t imagine there’s any (high school) that has ever played a tougher schedule than what we’ve got going,” Lancers head coach Eric Borba told PG during a recent telephone conversation. And it’s difficult to argue with that declaration.

It’s a schedule that kicks off Feb. 9 with a few weeks of challenging non-league games, dives into a couple of weeks of grueling Trinity League play and then includes participation at the elite Boras Classic in Southern California in late March.

With only few days to catch their collective breath, the Lancers then fly across country to Cary, N.C., for the USA Baseball National High School Invitation (NHSI) in early April. After that, it’s another three weeks of trying to navigate the dangerous waters of the Trinity League.

Borba hopes that the rugged regular-season schedule will result in his players being battle-tested and battle-hardened by the time the CIF D-1 Southern Section playoffs roll around in early May.

“Life is a grind and I think all of this is just a means of setting these guys up for life,” he said. “You’ve got to prepare yourself every day and you can’t take time off and I think scheduling the games that we do allows our kids to kind of understand that – you’ve got to grind.

“You’re not always going to have the best day every day but mentally you’ve got to be in the right place, you’ve got to do the right things and make the right decisions,” Borba added. “Hopefully, you’re in a very good place at the end of all of it.”

Perfect Game prognosticators believe the Lancers will end up in that “very good place” and today Orange Lutheran debuts at No. 4 in the PG High School Preseason National Top 50 Rankings.

Orange Lutheran’s roster boasts at least nine top prospects from the classes of 2019 and 2020 who have signed with/committed to NCAA Division-I schools. That includes senior first baseman/outfielder Garrett Frechette, a Perfect Game All-American and San Diego State recruit who transferred in from Cathedral Catholic HS; Frechette, ranked No. 55 nationally in the class of 2019, projects as an early round pick in June’s MLB Amateur Draft.

Outfielder Jasiah Dixon (No. 104-ranked, Southern Cal signee) is another highly ranked senior who is back in the fold and playing at 100 percent after missing most of last season with an injury. The junior class (2021s) is especially highly regarded with outfielder Chad Born (No. 57, Miami), right-hander Christian Rodriguez (No. 48, Miami), right-hander/shortstop Max Rajcic (No. 65, UCLA), and middle-infielder Tank Espalin (No. 129, Southern Cal).

With so many players who perform at such a high level within the parameters of the high school age-group, it could potentially be a challenge for Borba and his assistant coaches to get the truly elite prospects to check their egos at the door. Potentially, perhaps, but that’s not the reality.

Borba’s been doing this for quite a while now and he’s had some pretty high-profile teams with high-profile players. While it hasn’t always been the case where the egos have, indeed, been checked, he’s not worried about this group.

“We know, and I think our kids know through the experiences they’ve been through, that if your ego gets in the way we’re not going to achieve much as a team,” he said. “The kids and their families, more importantly, have really bought into that and with our culture through the years and we’re able to set that clear precedent with the families and the kids when they come in as freshman at the beginning of year.”

The Lancers finished 25-8 overall last year and won the premier Trinity League championship with a 12-3 mark; they lost in the semifinals of the CIF Division 1 Southern Section playoffs to eventual champion Capo Valley. It was another year of coming up just short, yet Borba described the 2018 season as a “great start.”

“We had a heck of a team – we had some real good leadership behind Cole Winn – and the kids really understood what it was to be a team,” he said. “We have three or four guys in the lineup this year that have been together for three years and that team camaraderie is such an important aspect of the high school game.”

Borba has had the pleasure of coaching some very good Orange Lutheran teams over the previous 10 seasons but none of them have been able to ultimately close the deal when it comes to winning a CIF Southern Section championship.

He called the constantly evolving culture of the program a “work in progress” and said that last year’s team was a good example of how strong that culture can be; he feels like this year’s team can build on that.

“They really understand what leadership is all about,” he said. “I just think the guys are excited about where the program is and excited about the guys we have, and I know they’re fired up going into the year.”

Borba tries to run the Orange Lutheran program like it’s a college program, and with all those D-I signees/commits on the roster it could be argued he is, indeed, coaching a college program. He runs the offseason similar to a college program and they travel all across the state – and the country – to play the best competition that’s out there.

“One of the things that is important in our program is getting out guys to the next level and preparing them for that level; we want to play at the highest possible level we can,” he said. “The ultimate goal – although we don’t talk about it as a team goal – is to win a national championship. We want to be at the highest levels and with that a big component is getting these guys on to the next level.”

Orange Lutheran has won the prestigious USA Baseball NHSI the last two years and will return to Cary, N.C., again this spring. While that schedule the Lancers play at home in California is certainly challenging, the Cary experience is second-to-none.

“Yeah, you know, it really is,” Borba said. “It’s the highest stage of high school baseball (and) it’s on a platform covered by so many different media outlets. You’ve got the best players in the country there, and just about every major league team, I think, has scouting representative there. It’s the top of the line, and sometimes I think our kids are a little spoiled with it. …

“But if we have that opportunity to go and just see where we’re at amongst the nation’s best, it’s just another avenue in preparing these kids for the next level by facing the best competition.”

It’s important for them, Borba believes, to learn how to face and deal with adversity. Too many times the adults in the room want to pave the road for the teenagers and make things easy on them, and he thinks the adults could do a better job of preparing the kids for the mission instead of trying to pave the path.

“They’re going to be dealt curveballs in life and face challenges, so we try to create an environment that’s going to give them as many possible challenges as we can,” he said. “Most of our kids – if not all of our kids – have a dream to play at the major league level. Although they know that’s not going to happen for all of them or many of them, probably, they want every opportunity to reach that platform.”

The players at Orange Lutheran enjoy some inherent advantages when it comes to their preparation for life at the “next level.” Resources available to them at the school include an academic support program, strength and conditioning program and an athletic training program or just about everything they need to become successful.

Borba knows he only has them for about four months out of the year, and the other eight months are spent with travel ball programs, which to his way of thinking is a much more individualistic-driven arena. So, for those four months, Borba wants to provide what he calls a great opportunity for them to understand what it’s like to play for something bigger than themselves.

“We talk about that constantly,” he said. “We talk about sacrificing for somebody else because that’s really what it is. And that’s something that they don’t get outside of our season very often, I believe.”

The rigorous regular season schedule the Lancers face this spring should help prepare for them for the 2019 postseason and beyond when they’ll really begin facing life’s realities. It night be daunting, but they’ll be ready for whatever comes their way.

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