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League championships and playoff spots will come down to the final series of the season this week for nearly every South Orange County baseball team. CIF-SS playoff brackets will be announced next Monday, May 1.
The tightest playoff race is in the Sea View League, where San Clemente, San Juan Hills and Aliso Niguel are locked in a three-way tie atop the league entering play on Monday. In the four-team Sea View League, only two teams are guaranteed a CIF-SS playoff berth, and with San Juan Hills (12-13) and Aliso Niguel (11-13) coming into the week with sub-.500 records, these games are essential to their postseason fates.
After a dramatic series against San Juan Hills last week, San Clemente, ranked No. 9 in CIF-SS Division 3, has the most straightforward path, as the Tritons (16-9) will host two of three games against last-place El Toro. The series is at San Clemente on Monday, April 24, and Thursday, April 27, and at El Toro on Tuesday, April 25. One win will clinch a playoff berth for the Tritons, as San Clemente split its series with both Aliso Niguel and San Juan Hills and holds a strong winning record.
The nature of the Sea View League championship race and the league’s other guaranteed CIF-SS playoff berth will be decided as Aliso Niguel hosts San Juan Hills for two of three games this week. If either team wins just two of three games, San Clemente can clinch a shared league title with two wins or can win the league title outright with a sweep of El Toro. Either way, the winner of the San Juan Hills-Aliso Niguel series will take the other guaranteed playoff spot.
The most high-profile playoff race is in the Trinity League, where JSerra, Mater Dei and Orange Lutheran come into the week with the same league record playing for two of the league’s three playoff spots. Santa Margarita, ranked No. 2 in CIF-SS Division 1, already clinched the league title last week, are tied for the second through fourth spots.
Reigning Division 1 champion JSerra, ranked No. 4, and Orange Lutheran, ranked No. 8 in Division 1, play a three-game set this week, including the opener at Hart Park in Orange on Monday. JSerra hosts on Tuesday, and Orange Lutheran hosts the finale on Thursday. Mater Dei, ranked No. 5 in Division 2, plays a three-game set against Servite.
While there is intrigue across the board for the Trinity League race, JSerra, Orange Lutheran and Mater Dei should all end up with CIF-SS playoff spots, either through a guaranteed league spot or an easy at-large selection.
In the South Coast League, Dana Hills has one last shot to make a desperate charge into the CIF-SS playoffs.
The Dolphins (8-17, 3-6) have had a down season, but upsets of league-leading Capistrano Valley and Tesoro set up Dana Hills for a three-game opportunity against Trabuco Hills (13-12, 5-4), which currently holds the league’s final guaranteed playoff spot. If the Dolphins can sweep the three-game set against the Mustangs, Dana Hills would surge into that guaranteed berth and the CIF-SS Division 3 playoffs.
Dana Hills hosts Trabuco Hills on Tuesday and Friday, April 28, with the second game of the series at Trabuco Hills on Wednesday, April 26. Elsewhere, Tesoro and Capistrano Valley lock up for a three-game league championship series with Tesoro as host on Tuesday and Friday.
There are a lot of moving parts for St. Margaret’s to possibly reach the CIF-SS playoffs through the Orange Coast League.
The Tartans (6-10, 4-6) sit in fifth in the seven-team league but could finish as high as third with two league games to play. Orange (13-11, 6-3) is in third place, Costa Mesa (17-7, 5-5) is in the fourth and final guaranteed playoff spot, and Santa Ana (6-15, 4-6) is in sixth.
St. Margaret’s is at Costa Mesa on Wednesday and hosts the Mustangs on Thursday. Orange hosts Santa Ana on Tuesday, plays at second-place Calvary Chapel on Wednesday and finishes at Santa Ana on Thursday. Both St. Margaret’s and Santa Ana need to get an automatic spot to get into the CIF-SS playoffs with losing records.
Capistrano Valley Christian, a team with four NCAA Division 1 power conference college signees, is in a complicated spot. The Eagles (17-10), who earned coach Clemente Bonilla’s 300th career win last week, had won 12 consecutive league championships in dominant fashion. This season, due to its dominance, CVC has no league games, so the Eagles will have to apply as an at-large team for the CIF-SS Division 2 playoffs. CVC closes its regular-season on Monday against Sonora.