The California High baseball team opened eyes this season with wins in 11 of its first 12 games. But perhaps the Grizzlies' success so far shouldn't come as a big surprise.
California returned a solid nucleus of players from last year's team that finished tied for second in the competitive East Bay Athletic League and advanced to the second round of the North Coast Section Division I playoffs. The Grizzlies hold first place in the EBAL by a half-game over De La Salle after California's 8-4 win over Granada on Wednesday. California's program searches for its first league title since 2007 when it was co-champions with Livermore.
"The schedule's been so tough with a lot of really quality opponents, but the kids have responded very well so far," California coach Chad Ross said. "Our focus is to play hard and compete, and let the rest take care of itself."
Seniors Cameron Santos and AJ Velasquez were first-team all-league selections last season and have looked like MVP candidates this year. Going into Wednesday's game at Granada, Santos was batting .512 -- with an .853 slugging percentage-- with 15 runs scored, nine RBIs and nine stolen bases. Velasquez and Santos each have three home runs, and Velasquez and teammate Trent Kravitz each have 11 RBIs.
"They've been doing so many things to help us offensively," Ross said of Santos and Velasquez. "But they're also surrounded by a lineup of quality players, which has been huge for us. The entire lineup feeds off each other."
The Grizzlies offense almost overshadows the efforts of the pitching staff, which, going into Wednesday, has an ERA of 1.75 in 84 innings.
Junior right-hander Mike Podany, who threw a perfect game March 21 against De La Salle, has allowed just nine earned runs in 29 innings.
Seniors Spencer Dokken, a left-hander, and righty Sam Cabral have also been impressive.
That depth comes in handy on a week such as this one, where the Grizzlies, who beat Livermore 14-3 Monday, have three games in five days. They face defending NCS champion Amador Valley on Friday.
GOING DEEP: Granada's softball team has shown serious power in its 12-1 start.
The Matadors have hit 18 home runs in the first month of the season, led by catcher Taylor Zehr's six. Tabitha Heinz and Kassidee Rusniak have four homers each, and seven members of Granada's regular starting lineup have at least one.
"And the two that haven't, I'll almost guarantee will have one before the year is over," Granada coach Johnny Heinz said.
But it's not all about the long ball for a Matadors team whose only loss of the season came to national No. 4 Archbishop Mitty-San Jose at last week's Livermore Stampede.
Granada also has experience, chemistry and the best defense since Heinz took over the team four seasons ago.
Sophomore pitcher Jessica Johnston, supported by an offense with a pair of .600 hitters in Zehr and Heinz, has allowed two or fewer runs in nine games.
"She's not going to blow the ball by you, but she'll get you to hit her pitch," Heinz said of Johnston.
A strong nucleus of seniors have provided leadership in the Matadors' sizzling start.
Four players -- Tabitha Heinz, McKayla Saavedra, Kayla Fitzgerald and Rusniak -- have all been starters since their freshman season.
"It's the maturity and the mental part of the game," Heinz said. "They feel pretty comfortable with each other and the game. It makes a big difference."
RANKINGS UPDATE: After giving up just one unearned run in winning the Michelle Carew Classic in Southern California last week, Amador Valley's softball team moved up to No. 2 in the national rankings by MaxPreps.com and StudentSports.com.
The Dons were No. 3 in both rankings entering the highly competitive tournament that featured many of the nation's top teams.
Mission Viejo is the No. 1-ranked team in the country by both publications but didn't attend the Carew Classic.
Alhambra also had a strong showing at the tournament, reaching the championship semifinals to enter the StudentSports Fab 50 rankings at No. 27.
Staff writer Stephanie Hammon contributed to this notebook.