By Dan Arritt     4/12/2016

Josh Stephen stepped on campus as a fledgling freshman three-and-a-half years ago, stared in awe at the talent around him and wondered if he’d ever get close to that level of play with the Mater Dei baseball team.

Some might say he’s soared above and beyond.

Stephen’s in his fourth year as a starting outfielder for the Monarchs, has a scholarship to USC in hand and experienced a phenomenal start to his senior year, hitting close to .500 through the first month of the season.

“I just come out here and try to hit the ball hard every single time,” he says. “If it lands, it lands. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t, but at least my approach is locked in and I’m giving my team the best opportunity to win.”

Stephen wants nothing more than to help the Monarchs win as often as they did during his freshman year. The roster that season was loaded with talented seniors who led Mater Dei to a 24-3 record, including 14-1 in the Trinity League.

The team featured seniors Austin Grebeck in centerfield, Ryan McMahon at third base and Jeremy Martinez behind the plate. Greback is now the leadoff hitter for the University of Oregon, Martinez the starting first baseman for USC and McMahon is a rising prospect in the Colorado Rockies’ minor league system, earning his first taste of big league camp this spring.

“It was a good opportunity for me to take in all of that and be on a team like that,” says Stephen, who managed to hit .259 in 69 plate appearances as starting freshman on the varsity.

But the Monarchs have struggled to fill some of the gaps left behind by the Class of 2013. Because that group was so dominant and most had held their starting positions since they were underclassmen, Stephen says a number of other talented players in his age group opted to play elsewhere in hopes of getting earlier playing time.

Mater Dei’s record tumbled to 14-14 and 7-8 in league play during Stephen’s sophomore season and 18-13 and 8-7 last year.

Even this season, the Monarchs are trying to win with a young team. Stephen is one of only four seniors on the roster and the only non-pitcher among that group.

“This team is pretty talented. It’s just that we have a lot of underclassmen,” Stephen says. “A lot of kids that haven’t played at a high level of what the Trinity League puts out.”

Still, the Monarchs posted some impressive victories during the first month of the season, splitting a season-opening double-header against El Toro and later beating Cypress and Loyola, teams that were ranked in the top 10 in CIF-SS Division I during March.

Mater Dei also flew to North Carolina to compete in the prestigious USA Baseball National High School Invitational, a tournament the Monarchs won in 2012 and 2013. They went 2-2 this time around, but the younger players gained valuable experience that should benefit them when Trinity League play begins April 12 at Servite.

“The Trinity League is one of the toughest conferences for high school baseball in the country, year in and year out.” Stephen says. “All the teams in the Trinity League compete and they put out good players, they put out good teams.”

Stephen might just be this spring’s cream of the crop.