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Prep baseball preview: Tigers staying at home

For more than a decade baseball was a struggle at Morse High.

The Tigers were a second-rate program that had 10 losing seasons in 13 years before Dallas Booker took control in 2017.

And his first two season as coach of the Tigers was were no picnic, going 17-40.

“We had old equipment,” said Booker, who was a three-year varsity letterman at Morse and a two-time captain. “We had mismatched uniforms. I’d have to put 5A and 5B on the lineup card because we didn’t have enough uniforms to go around.”

Things changed in 2019.

Booker managed to keep some local players home and the Tigers finished 20-11, winning the San Diego Section Division V championship, the school’s first title in baseball — and the school was founded in 1962.

Like so many other schools, the 2020 season was lost to COVID-19 as Morse went 0-6.

Last season the Tigers roared again, winning the Central League championship before losing in the first round of the Division IV playoffs.

“We lost a couple games we shouldn’t and got sent to Holtville for the playoffs,” Booker said. “It had to be 110 that day. And their shortstop made a nice play on a ball headed to center field to end the game or we might have pulled that game out.”

The bad news is Morse lost that game 12-10 and Booker is still haunted by his seniors crying after the game.

The good news is the Tigers have 16 players back from that team, including eight regulars who hit .318 or better.

The leaders include:

<bullet><TH>Sophomore shortstop/pitcher Alex Leyva, who hit .520 with 30 RBIs and 19 extra-base hits. And he was the Central League Pitcher of the Year.

<bullet><TH>Senior third baseman/pitcher Michael Chapman, who hit .420 with 36 RBIs and 13 extra-base hits.

<bullet><TH>Junior second baseman/pitcher Marcus Gonzales, who hit .512 with 13 extra-base hits and 28 RBIs.

<bullet><TH>Senior first baseman/left-handed pitcher Edwin Alba, who hit .526 with seven extra-base hits and 25 RBIs. He led the team with 43 runs scored.

“For years, other schools came in here and took our players,” Booker said. “All I want is to play with the kids who live in our neighborhood.

“I’ll be honest. I want to be the premier program on this campus, and I want to do it with Morse kids.”

All the current Tigers are neighborhood kids.

“Other schools contacted me about playing for them, but I live in this neighborhood and wanted to play where my family and friends can watch me,” Chapman said.

“Coach Booker has instilled some pride into the program. We have home and away uniforms. We have different hats and helmets for road and home.

“The guys in our area can play. All we want to do is represent Morse as best we can.

“When we beat Mount Miguel for the championship in 2019, the stands were packed at Poway. It was like playing in a college stadium. I want that feeling again.”

Alba is an ignitor igniter at the top of the Morse lineup. He’s also the only left-hander on the pitching staff.

And he’s the quietest member of the returning Big 4.

“I started hearing about Morse baseball when I was in Little League,” Alba said. “I heard they were building a program here. I heard the coaches were building something in the community. So I decided to stay home and give it a try. I haven’t regretted that decision.”

Gonzales attended Monte Vista his freshman year.

After a year of commuting, he decided to come home.

“I thought the baseball would be better at Monte Vista,” Gonzales said. “But the school was just too far away, and I was struggling academically. So my dad talked to Coach Booker and here I am.

“I love that we’re winning games, and my GPA is now a 3.7.

“This team has a bond. Coming back to Morse was the best decision I’ve ever made.”

Leyva, a starter as a freshman, is a slick-fielding shortstop, who led the Tigers with 53 hits last season.

And he’s the team’s No. 1 pitcher.

“My brothers played at Morse in 2016 and the team was bad,” Leyva said. “Other schools talked to me about playing for them, but we live close to Morse. And I know Coach Booker. I saw he was building something here, saw that the team had a bond. We’re winning with neighborhood kids. And that makes it all so much better.”

Prep baseball preview

Preseason Top 10

School, 2021 record, Comment

1. Granite Hills, 28-10 in 2021, Division I champs are in tough a league.

2. Eastlake, 25-10, Open Division champs are young, but talented.

3. San Marcos, 26-7, Knights have some boppers and arms.

4. Torrey Pines, 29-10, Won 29 games and return all 3 starting pitchers.

5. Rancho Bernardo, 25-8, Trent Abel highlights 13 returnees.

6. La Costa Canyon, 22-13, Strong pitching staff and talented JV class.

7. Madison, 13-19, 11 college prospects, highlighted by Haley and Jackson.

8. Poway, 15-18, Return 7 starters. Will hit, pitch and play defense.

9. St. Augustine, 24-8, Saints returning 15 pitching wins.

10. Grossmont, 29-7, Zamora and Barnes give team 2 big bats.

Others to consider:

(In alphabetical order)

Bonita Vista (19-11), Cathedral Catholic (11-17), Christian (27-5), Helix (15-16), La Jolla Country Day (21-10), Mission Hills (23-11), Patrick Henry (20-10), Point Loma (20-14), Santana (21-6), Steele Canyon (23-12).

Players to Watch

Name, Pos., School, Yr., Comment

Koda Alto, RHP, Santana, Sr., Returning 1st-team All-CIF player.

Kalen Applefield, OF-C, San Marcos, So., Cal commit.

Shane Bailey, IF-RHP, Christian, Jr., All-State Medium School pick.

EJ Barnes, IF, Francis Parker, Jr., San Jose State commit.

Noah Barnes, OF, Grossmont, Sr., One of top uncommitted players in county.

Angel Barron, RHP, Imperial, So., Committed to San Diego State.

Caden Bass, IF, La Costa Canyon, Sr., Chico State commit.

Kyle Becker, OF-RHP, Del Norte, Sr., 1st-team All-CIF. Nevada commit.

Jake Bold, C, La Jolla Country Day, Sr., Princeton commit.

Tyler Bremner, RHP, Scripps Ranch, Sr., Committed to UC Santa Barbara.

Jacob Campagna, C-3B, Francis Parker, Jr., USF commit.

DJ Cardinal, OF, Del Norte, OF, Committed to San Diego State.

Franklin Carney, SS-2B, St. Augustine, Sr., Committed to UC Irvine.

Holden Carpenter, RHP, San Marcos, Sr., San Diego State commit.

James Castagnola, 3B, Cathedral Catholic, Sr., UC Irvine commit.

Manoah Chapman, 2B, Madison, Committed to San Diego State.

Elijah Cook, OF-LHP, Mater Dei Catholic, Sr., Speedy late bloomer.

Cody Delvecchio, RHP, Mission Hills, Sr., Big arm. UCLA commit.

Duke Ekstrom, RHP-1B, Point Loma, Jr., Committed to Vanderbilt.

Landon Elliot, RHP, La Costa Canyon, Sr, Point Loma Nazarene commit.

Ryan Ellis, RHP-1B, Patrick Henry, Sr., League POY. Committed to Santa Clara.

Chris Esquivel, SS, LJCD, Committed to USD.

Trevor Fox, LHP-1B, St. Augustine, Sr., San Diego State commit.

Xavier Franco, IF-RHP, Otay Ranch, SR, Committed to UC San Diego.

Sam Garewal, LHP, Canyon Crest, Sr., Big arm. Committed to Northwestern.

Jake Giordano, C, Patrick Henry, Jr., USD commit.

Bode Grieve, OF, Bishop’s, Sr., Committed to Baylor.

Ben Haar, LHP, Helix, Sr., Committed to USD.

Maddox Haley, 3B, Madison, 3B, Committed to San Diego State.

Josh Hartman, C, Rancho Bernardo, So, UC Santa Barbara commit.

Ryan Herrod, LHP, Westview, Jr., Committed to USD.

Glen Huggins, RHP, Bonita Vista, Sr., Returning 2nd-team All-CIF.

Zack Isaacman, RHP:Torrey Pines, Sr., 2nd-team All-CIF player.

Jake Jackson, OF, Madison, Jr., 3-sport star. Committed to San Diego State.

Kalani Jauregui, IF, Otay Ranch, Sr., San Diego State commit.

Addison Klepsch, RHP-IF, Poway, So., Arizona State commit.

Ryan Kroepel, RHP-IF, Poway, Jr., Arizona State commit.

Isaiah Lane, SS, Eastlake, Jr., Committed to Oklahoma.

Angel Laya, OF, Mission Bay, Fr., Oregon commit.

Nico Libed, C, Eastlake, Jr., Committed to USD.

John Luetzow, C-IF, LJCD, Sr., League POY. Committed to Santa Clara.

Vaughn Major, SS-RHP, Christian, Jr., 10-1, committed to UC Santa Barbara.

Cade Martinez, SS-RHP, St. Augustine, Sr., Committed to San Diego State.

Chaz McRoberts, RHP-IF, St. Augustine, Sr., Loyola Marymount commit.

Jake Molinar, RHP, Bishop’s, Sr., Committed to UCSB.

JJ Moran, IF, San Marcos, So., USC commit.

Cody Nitowitz, OF, Cathedral Catholic, Jr., UC Santa Barbara commit.

Anthony Perritano, SS, Cathedral Catholic, So., Committed to USC.

Ryan Rivera, IF, San Marcos, Sr., San Diego State commit.

Michael Rocha, 3B, Eastlake, Sr., Was hurt all last season.

Peyton Rogers, RHP-IF, Torrey Pines, So., Committed to San Diego State.

Zach Small, 3B-RHP, Oceanside, So., Best Pirates’ prospect in a decade.

MJ Sweeney, 1B-RHP, St. Augustine, Jr., Kansas commit.

Cameron Tracy, RHP, Poway, Sr., Committed to UC Riverside.

Eric Van Valkenberg, RHP, Torrey Pines, Sr., Oklahoma State commit.

Kien Vu, OF, Point Loma, Sr., Arizona State commit.

Jackson Waller, 2B, Mission Hills, Sr., 4-year starter.

Ryan Ward, SS, Coronado, Sr., Committed to Arkansas.

Cole Wilson, 1B-OF, Torrey Pines, Sr., UC San Diego commit.

Demarae Woods, OF, Helix, Sr., Committed to Loyola Marymount.

Jason Wright, C, Westview, Sr., San Diego State commit.

Barron Zamora, 1B, Grossmont, Sr., Committed to Washington.

Local recruiting: San Diego State has commitments from 11 San Diego County players, USD has 5.

Notable

Maximum number of contests: 28

Last day of regular season: May 13

Championship finals: May 27-28

Defending champions: Open Division — Eastlake. Division I — Granite Hills. Division II — Carlsbad. Division III — Christian. Division IV — West Hills. Division V — Orange Glen.

Player of the Year: Marcelo Mayer (Eastlake)

Pitcher of the Year: Evan Vasiliou (Grossmont)

Coach of the Year: Jordan Abruzzo (Grossmont)

Key tournaments

Saints Bill Whittaker: Feb. 16-March 5 (6 teams)

Pirate Classic: Feb. 19-March 2 (30 teams)

Kendra Couch Classic: Feb. 21-March 5 (12 teams)

Hilltop-Lolita’s: Feb. 22-March 4-5 (10 teams)

GMC Division 1: March 7-16 (12 teams)

North County: March 12-18 (30 teams)

Lions: April 11-14 (112 teams in 11 divisions – Open Division includes Granite Hills, Torrey Pines, Sage Creek, Carlsbad, Cathedral Catholic, Rancho Bernardo, Helix, Poway, Grossmont, San Marcos, Santana, La Costa Canyon, St. Augustine)

Boras Classic: April 19-22 (16 teams, including Point Loma and St. Augustine)

Petco Park games: April 25, 26, 27 (6 games)