The meat of the high school baseball season is upon us, with several teams beginning league play this week. Here’s a look at the programs who’ve established themselves as the best in the Inland Empire so far, led my J.W. North, the defending Southern Section Division 1 champion. A list of the top players from the region follows, one for those playing high school baseball and another for the handful who have opted to train with ABD Academy in San Bernardino, and the dates for the start of league play are listed at the bottom.
Top 10 teams
1. J.W. North – The Huskies have picked up where they left off, winning their first six games, including a 3-0 victory against Temescal Canyon in the final of the Redlands Invitational.
2. Indio – The Rajahs are off to an 8-0 start and they're not piling up wins against cream puffs. They’ve beaten Granite Hills, Temecula Valley, Norco, Palm Springs and meet Chino on Tuesday in the championship game of the Chino tournament.
3. Redlands East Valley – The Wildcats only blemish is a 4-2 loss against J.W. North. They might have the talent to make a run at the top of this list, but still need to gain some quality victories.
4. Granite Hills – Hailing from Apple Valley, the Cougars aren’t much of a household name. They soon could be, however, posting early-season wins against Chino Hills, Valley View, Oak Hills and Canyon Springs and holding their own in three-run losses to J.W. North and Indio.
5. Temescal Canyon – The Titans are another team whose only setback came against J.W. North. They came into the season ranked fifth in the Southern Section Division 3 preseason coaches’ poll and have shown they belong.
6. Alta Loma – The Braves lost their season opener against Orange County powerhouse Orange Lutheran, 11-9, but have since won four straight, including victories last week against Yucaipa (14-3) and Paloma Valley (3-0), which entered the season ranked 10th in Division 3.
7. Upland – The Highlanders have allowed one run or fewer in all five victories. Their only loss came last week against undefeated Mayfair, 5-1, in the semifinals of the Upland tournament.
8. Chino – The Cowboys opened the season ranked ninth the Division 4 coaches’ poll and have responded with five straight victories out of the gate, including a 10-2 win last week against Etiwanda, ranked fifth in the Division 2 preseason poll.
9. Los Osos – The Grizzlies figure to add to a tight Baseline League race. Their only loss came against Damien, and they own one-sided victories against Crescenta Valley and Claremont.
10. Colony – The Titans entered the season ranked No. 6 in Division 4 but are still seeking that Grade A victory. A good showing Wednesday against Don Lugo in their Mt. Baldy League opener would help.
Redlands – Some folks really like the Terriers thus far, not us. They lost to Canyon Springs and scraped together one-run victories against very average La Quinta and Roosevelt teams.
Arlington – The unbeaten Lions will finally get a true test Saturday against Mayfair.
Palm Desert – After reaching the Division 4 finals last season, the Aztecs came in ranked No. 2 in the division's preseason poll. They haven't started the way they hoped, losing to Corona Santiago and Vista Murrieta.
Don Lugo – A win Friday against unbeaten Diamond Bar probably would have reserved the Conquistadors a spot in the top 10, but they went out and lost, 7-1. They’ll get another chance Wednesday against Colony.
San Gorgonio – The Spartans finally played a decent opponent Saturday in the championship game of their own tournament and beat previously unbeaten Elsinore, 7-6. Their only ding is a loss on the back end of a season-opening doubleheader against Summit.
Vista Murrieta – The Southwestern League went a combined 20-10 in nonleague play heading into this week but no team has been lights out. We’ll go with the one ranked fifth in Division 1 coming into the season, though they own the only losing record among SWL teams.
Vahn Bozoian, Ayala, Sr., OF – Signed with USC
Daniel Robertson, Upland, Sr., 3B – Signed with UCLA
R.J. Ybarra, Riverside Poly, Sr., C – Signed with Arizona State
Austin Cipres, Murrieta Valley, Sr., OF
Zach Jemiola, Great Oak, Sr., RHP – Signed with UC Riverside
Joseph Keller, Chino Hills, Sr., 3B
Tanner Kiest, Yucaipa, Sr., RHP – Signed with UC Riverside
Brooks Kriske, Palm Desert, Sr., RHP – Signed with USC
Gabriel Clark, J.W. North, Sr., 1B – Signed with Oregon State
Brian Ruhm, Redlands, Sr., 2B – Signed with UC Davis
Michael Darr, Corona Santiago, Jr., OF
Jeff Moberg, Vista Murrieta, Sr., 2B/P – Signed with Cal State Fullerton
Angelo Lingos, Great Oak, Sr., OF/P – Signed with UC Riverside
Top non-high school players (with high schools they attend)
Tanner Rahier, Palm Desert, Sr., SS – Signed with San Diego
Devin Carter, TemeculaValley, Sr. OF – Signed with Pepperdine
Chris Kohler, Los Osos, Jr., LHP – Committed to USC
Dalton DiNatale, Ontario Christian, Sr., 3B – Signed with Arizona State
League start dates
Big VIII - March 14
Baseline - March 13
Sunbelt - March 12 and 14
Sierra - March 14 and 16
Sunkist - March 14 and 16
Southwestern - March 15 and 20
Inland Valley - March 20
Mojave River - March 21
Citrus Belt - March 23
San Andreas - March 27