By Christopher Randall     2/23/2016

Spring hasn’t sprung, but baseball season – starting in early March – is just around the corner. And as far as the Trinity League goes, the upcoming season is shaping up to be as brutal as the recent summer-like heat wave in SoCal.

“Brutal” as in the level of competition.

All six teams in the Trinity League – JSerra, Orange Lutheran, Mater Dei, Santa Margarita, Servite and St. John Bosco – are pretty evenly matched this year, coaches say.

Which means in any given game, any team can win. As for the main rivalries on the diamond?

“It’s everyone vs. everyone,” says Shawn Gilbert, head baseball coach at Servite High School. “It’s not from a place of hatred, but from a place of respect.”

Last year, JSerra ended atop the Trinity League, with a record of 12-2-1.

No. 2 was Orange Lutheran, at 10-5, followed by Mater Dei at 8-7. Rounding out the Trinity League in 2015 were Santa Margarita Catholic High School, at 6-9, followed by Servite, at 4-10-1, and St. John Bosco, 4-11.

This upcoming baseball season, Orange Lutheran, JSerra and St. John Bosco will field teams with no significant player turnover. But Servite, Santa Margarita and Mater Dei have major pieces to replace from 2015.

“This season has a chance to have the most parity in our league,” says JSerra head coach Brett Kay. “Each program has elevated itself to be one of the top in our league. A league champion could be 10-5 in (the final standings). It should be another gauntlet of a year.” Kay sees Mater Dei and Orange Lutheran as this year’s powerhouses.

In terms of starters, JSerra – which has an impressive group of experienced position players returning — probably has the oldest team in the Trinity League.

“If the season started today,” Kay says, “we would start seven seniors and two juniors. Santa Margarita, Orange Lutheran and Mater Dei have some really great young players.”

Mater Dei also has its fair share of returning starters in outfielder Josh Stephen, a senior who has committed to USC; catcher Blake Hunt, a junior who will head to Pepperdine; third baseman Jonathan Schiffer, a junior (Washington); sophomore outfielder Grant Burton (Stanford) and pitcher Michael Thomas, a junior and All-Trinity League player.

Burt Call, Mater Dei’s head baseball coach, says his squad’s top newcomers are outfielder Michael Peabody, a junior; shortstop Emilio Rosas (Cal), a sophomore; and second-baseman Max Foxcroft (Oregon), a sophomore.

“The Trinity League is stacked with great teams,” Call says. “Every game will be a battle. It will be a exciting season.”

Orange Lutheran, whom many coaches peg among the favorites to top the league this year because of the team’s quality pitching depth and athletic position players, only graduated three starters, so its lineup should be similar to last year.

Orange Lutheran Head Coach Eric Borba says his team’s promising new starters are catcher Gabe Briones, a freshman; outfielder Jasiah Dixon, a freshman; designated hitter and pitcher Nick Hansen, a sophomore; and sophomore third-baseman Austin Mowrey.

Gilbert, the head coach of Servite, says right fielder Tanner Smith, a sophomore, has shown “significant growth” from last year. Smith recently gave a verbal commitment to Oregon, Gilbert noted.

Santa Margarita Head Coach David Bacani says making the playoffs will be a big challenge in the Trinity League. He says all teams should be strong once again but that Orange Lutheran and JSerra probably return with the most experience and talent.

Bacani, whose team won the 2014 CIF Championship, says the Eagles will rely on pitching and defense this season.

“We have a lot of depth on the mound and we should be really strong defensively,” Bacani says. “Offensively, we have to rely on execution and timely hitting. There’s a good mix of seniors and younger players on our team.”

Bacani says his top newcomers are pitcher Chandler Champlain, a sophomore who has committed to USC; Cole Heslar, a sophomore outfield and top-of-the-lineup left-handed hitter; Wyatt Thilken, a junior outfielder; Konnor Kwok, a pitcher and designated hitter who has committed to Claremont-McKenna; and Josh Nicoloff, a junior infielder who is a solid defender.

As for top returning players, Bacani cited senior outfielder Johnny Carr, a solid hitter and defender; pitcher Kyle Bushhousen, a senior; and shortstop Joey Myers, a junior known for his solid defense and quality at-bats.