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On the Beat Baseball: SCV a pipeline to Mission College

Posted: May 5, 2014 11:01 p.m.
Updated: May 5, 2014 11:01 p.m.

A large portion of one San Fernando Valley baseball team’s success is because of Santa Clarita Valley players.

The Mission College baseball team reached the Super Regionals (final eight) of the Southern California playoffs by eliminating Saddleback College this past weekend.

Eleven players on the team are from Foothill League schools, including the Western State Conference Player of the Year and Hart High graduate C.J. Witkowski and first-team all conference players Austin Rodriguez (Saugus), Aaron Watkins (West Ranch) and pitcher Aaron Hamilton (Hart).

This is the best Mission has done under seventh-year head coach Joe Cascione, who credited the Santa
Clarita bunch for part of the team’s success — a conference title and now this playoff run.

“They’ve come in and they’re very talented,” Cascione said. “You need talent to win, and they came in extremely talented and blend in well.”

The Santa Clarita Valley resident said he keeps a close eye on SCV talent, which provides College of the Canyons with even more competition in that it’s not a given that local players will stay ultra-local.

That’s been the case with this crop of players, many of which have interesting backstories.

Witkowski’s is particularly interesting in that the talented first baseman missed his senior season playing for Hart because of a regrettable decision that landed he and teammate Luke Persico off the Indians team in 2013.

Witkowski went to UC Santa Barbara for a short period, left and surfaced at Mission, where he has a slash line this season of .350/420/.590 with seven home runs and 43 RBIs.

“Without a doubt he’s a guy who’s really brought it,” Cascione said. “Extremely hard worker. To me personally, he’s been a stand-up guy.”

Hamilton is 6-2 with a 3.32 ERA in 11 starts.

Mission is also getting big contributions from former Hart first baseman and second-team all-conference selection Connor O’Brien and former Hart pitcher Tyler Webb (2.85 ERA in 47 1/3 innings), and former Saugus left-hander Chris Danielson and former Valencia reliever Chris Gimenez.

Mission plays Santa Barbara this weekend in a best-of-three series to reach the So Cal final four.

The final two from will make the state championship series.

The Foothill fight: The way things are supposed to happen in the final four games is Valencia is supposed to win its final four because it is facing Canyon and Golden Valley (teams with a combined record of 3-19 in Foothill play). While that’s happening, the other Foothill title contenders — Hart, Saugus and West Ranch are supposed to beat up on each other, paving the way for a Vikings Foothill League championship.

However, it’s not going to be that easy.

There will be so much chaos in the final four games that the Foothill champion, or co-champions will be decided on the last day.

Because the pitchers in this league rely so heavily on putting the ball in play, defense will be a major factor in who wins the title.

Who that favors is debatable.

But throw this in the mix as well — the dark horse is West Ranch and the Wildcats have one thing the other teams don’t — a strikeout-stuff pitcher in Jake Bird, who has the potential to limit hits and dominate a game.

The Wildcats get Saugus twice this week and in order for them to win a championship, Bird will likely have to be used like last year’s horse, Cody Bennett — meaning we could see the senior twice against the Cents.

Saugus, however, has shaken off the “little offense” label.

The Centurions have scored six or more runs in six of their last seven games.

Now the rankings:

1. Saugus

2. Hart

3. Valencia

4. West Ranch

5. Canyon

6. Golden Valley



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