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Elite high school baseball teams make the case for the No. 1 spot



Led by top-ranked recruit Austin Meadows, Grayson (Loganville, Ga.) could make a strong case to be our preseason No. 1 team. / Courtesy of Baseball Factory.com

It’s not that Spruce Creek (Port Orange, Fla.) baseball coach Johnny Goodrich is staging a one-man “We’re No. 1” campaign or lobbying for votes for the top spot in the season’s first USA Today Super 25 baseball rankings.

He’s just not ducking the appointment.

“If we’re ranked No. 1 then that’s fine with us,” Goodrich said. “Some coaches don’t want that pressure, but we’re fine with it. It would be welcomed.”

Same for Lexington (Lexington, S.C.) coach Brian Hucks.

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He’s not asking to be high school baseball’s top dog; he’s simply saying that if it comes he and his team won’t go into shock.

That’s been the general consensus among coaches as the season gets underway.

In addition to Lexington and Spruce Creek, there are a handful of other teams that could make a legitimate case at being No. 1 in the season’s inaugural rankings, like Cathedral Catholic (San Diego), Martin (Arlington, Texas), Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) and Vista (Vista, Calif.), to name a few.

“We definitely feel like we’re an elite team because we’ve put the work in,” Hucks said. “I honestly don’t care for rankings, especially preseason rankings, but I recognize that it’s a way to show the kids that their hard work has paid off and so I’m all for it.”

The Wildcats’ case for No. 1 is pretty convincing.

They return key players from a team that finished 27-4 last season and lost in the state semifinals.

Their biggest piece?

Nick Ciuffo, a junior catcher who is committed to South Carolina.

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“He’s just special,” Hucks said of Ciuffo. “He truly makes us go.”

Add in lefty senior pitchers Josh Reagan and Cole McMillan, who are both committed to South Carolina, to go along with four other seniors who have all played together since little league, and it’s easy to understand why Hucks is so comfortable with the bull’s-eye.

“We’ve always gotten that bull’s-eye anyway,” Hucks said. “So that doesn’t matter to us. We’re confident enough to deal with that.”

Goodrich was equally confident, due in large part to his talented pitching staff, which includes four Division-I prospects.

The best of the bunch is Kyle Marsh, a junior who finished 11-0 with 110 strikeouts as a sophomore and throws in the 91-94 mph range.

“He just doesn’t get hit,” Goodrich said. “What wins games is pitching and defense and that’s where we’re strongest. That’s why I’d be OK with No. 1.”

Still, not everyone was comfortable reeling off the reasons they could be considered high school baseball’s most elite.

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Take Grayson (Loganville, Ga.).

Last season the Rams finished 27-9 and went to the Final Four, which meant facing elite teams like Parkview (Lilburn, Ga.) and Brookwood (Snellville, Ga.). But even with most of their talent back this season, Rams coach Jed Hixson isn’t looking for any added distractions or attention.

Could be hard since the Rams feature the country’s top senior, Austin Meadows, an outfielder who’s committed to Clemson.

“It’s flattering, but it’s a little intimidating and it’s not always the best thing to be No. 1 right away,” Hixson said. “People are already wanting to beat you because of who’s on your team and being considered the best, that doesn’t help.”

Cathedral Catholic coach Gary Remiker concurred.

Even with one of, if not the most talented pitching staff in the country, which include five players committed to D-I colleges, Remiker said his primary goal is to lead the Dons to their third-consecutive 30-win season.

“We would embrace No. 1 right now and be appreciative,” he said. “But we would much rather be recognized as the No. 1 team in the Super 25 come June. That’s all that matters to us.”

Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter @JayJayUSATODAY

 

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