Season Preview: Varsity Baseball Team looks to build on momentum of last season


Brigette Ramirez

LOOKING TOWARDS THE FUTURE: Heading into the 2022 season, the Varsity Baseball team aims to remain a playoff contender in arguably the toughest league and division in the country. “To be generic, our goal is always to win a CIF title but I think that’s something everybody should aspire to,” Head Coach Richard Mercado said. “For us, we have a lot more sub-goals. I think one of the main things we talk about a lot, on a daily basis, is being competitive and making sure we’re trying to be focused from pitch to pitch so we can compete in every game we play. I think with the pitching staff we have and the guys who have been more competitive we have a good chance to win all the games.”

What to know:

The Mater Dei Varsity Baseball Team will begin their 28 game season with a home opener against Cypress High School on Feb. 19. The team finished last season with a 16-12 record, tying for 3rd place in the Trinity League and not qualifying for the Southern Section CIF playoffs.

This year, in Richard Mercado’s fourth season as head coach, the team looks to improve their record and compete for a CIF-SS championship.

“For me, this will be the first class that I’ve had [the] chance to coach since they were freshmen,” Mercado said. “I’m really excited to see these guys [knowing] where they’ve come from from their freshman year. They have really improved on and off the field so I’m excited to see these guys have a great senior year.”

After graduating 17 seniors last spring, the team is looking to new faces along with key returning starters and captains Cade O’Hara (SS) and Ethan Hedges (RHP/IF) to lead the young squad in the competitive Trinity League.

“Ethan [Hedges] will be a really important piece for us because he’s going to be on the mound a decent amount, playing third base and hitting in the top of our lineup,” Mercado said. “And then Cade [O’Hara] at shortstop. He has always been a fantastic defender. Him turning the corner, having a big offensive year, getting on base, and being a good leader will be important for our success as well. Some younger guys, Johnny Elliott, Brody Connors and possibly a freshman, Dylan Wetzel […] also have a chance to be big contributors.”

The pitching staff will be led by returning starter and UC Berkeley signee Jack Kirrer (RHP) with significant contributions by junior Kalani Santos (RHP/2B) and seniors Ethan Hedges (RHP/IF) and Jake Keffer (RHP).

Newcomers to the team include transfer from Orange Lutheran High School Derek Gonzales (OF/C), freshman Landon Gordon (RHP/IF), and freshman Dylan Wetzel (SS/3B). These new additions to the team along with returning sophomores Brody Connors (RHP/SS) and Johnny Elliot (C/INF), will play important roles on the team this season as they establish themselves as varsity players.

“We’re excited about the guys we have – they’re young and there is a bright future ahead of this program,” Mercado said. “There’s going to be some bumps, like most younger guys have during the season, but the team will be better in the long run.”

While the team has remained strong defensively the past few years, offense will be the key to a successful 2022 season and has been the focus of the team during the off-season.

“Offensively, what we’ve done a lot more is focus on our two strike approaches and being more competitive with our at-bats,” Mercado said. “I think we haven’t really had as good of an identity offensively early in counts as we want. I think we can focus a lot more on being aggressive before two strikes so our guys can be more offensive. I think it will help us put better at-bats together.”

Due to the number of starters who graduated last year, this year’s team looks very different from the team heading into the 2022 season. With that comes a lack of experience, but also new potential for both personal growth from individual players and opportunities for the team as a whole.

“We’re going to definitely be a brand new team this year,” Captain Cade O’Hara said. “There’s a lot of young guys that I haven’t interacted with a whole lot yet – other than on the field.”

The season begins with four non-league games, two of which the team will be travelling to Fresno to play, and the Perfect Game West Coast High School Showdown at Great Park in Irvine.

Trinity League play begins on Mar. 15 with a three-game series against St. John Bosco with two away games and one home game for the Monarchs.

The team will undoubtedly be competing against some of the best teams in the nation this spring. Trinity League members Orange Lutheran High School and Servite High School will both travel to Cary, North Carolina for the National High School Invitational in April and Orange Lutheran is also ranked first in the Perfect Game Preseason High School Top 50. With this difficult schedule comes both a challenge and a lot to prove for the Monarchs.

“We try to put our guys in challenging environments so that when they get to league [play] it’s not new to them,” Mercado said. “They’re at ease with the environment they’re in because they’ve been through tough games before. There’s not one team that’s tougher than the rest because they’re all going to be dogfights. This is one of those years where it’s gonna be very much like that.”

Although the season opener opponent Cypress High School is not a member of the Trinity League, it is a competitive team which won the CIF-SS Division I Championship and was both state and national champions in 2019. The Centurions finished last season 19-11, ultimately losing to 2021 CIF-SS champions Harvard-Westlake High School during playoff quarter-finals.

“It’s a great test for us to start the season off,” Mercado said. “We don’t shy away from anybody, we want to play the best. We know our league is the toughest, so we need to prepare for that. Cypress is prepared and their guys are tough. They play the game the right way, their pitchers throw strikes, and their hitters are coached well so I think playing them will be a fantastic opportunity for us to see where we’re at early in the season.”

The Monarchs have already faced Cypress once this year playing as their fall league team, the Muckdogs. While the team fell 0-1 in their first encounter with the Centurions, they have developed as a team since and look to open the season with a home victory.

“We played Cypress with the Muckdogs and they were good, but we’ve gotten a lot better since then,” O’Hara said. “I feel like we’re connecting more as a team and the chemistry is coming along. We’ve been swinging the bats a lot better recently, so I feel like we’ll definitely give them a run for their money.”

Breaking it down:

Head Coach (years at the school): Richard Mercado (4)

Last year’s record: 16-12 overall, 6-9 in league

Number of returning starters: 3

Number of returning pitchers: 5

Top returning players:

2022 RHP/INF Ethan Hedges- USC Signee

2022 SS Cade O’Hara- Texas Tech Signee

2022 RHP Jack Kirrer- UC Berkeley Signee

2022 RHP Jake Keffer- University of Chicago Commit

2022 RHP Jordan Manzur

Top newcomers:

2023 RHP/2B Kalani Santos

2023 OF/C Derek Gonzales

2024 RHP/SS Brody Connors

2024 C/INF John Elliott

2025 SS/3B Dylan Wetzel

2025 RHP/INF Landon Gordon

2024 LHP/1B Gavin Williams