Last year's Lions Tournament competition draws a cheer from the La Costa Canyon dugout.
Peter Gallagher takes pride in the fact only a handful of San Diego County’s 110 baseball-playing high schools won’t participate in the 128-team, nine-division Lions Tournament that starts Monday at high schools around the county.
But Gallagher, the man in charge of team procurement for the 66th annual event, is equally proud that he has four quality out-of-town teams in the 16-team Classic Division.
The best of those teams is West Linn, a suburb of Portland, which fields a squad ranked No. 96 in the nation by MaxPreps.
“The Lions Tournament is a big, big deal,” said UC Santa Barbara baseball coach Andrew Checketts, who was in San Diego this month to play in the Tony Gwynn Classic.
Checketts was the Oregon High School Player of the Year in 1994 while at West Linn and coached at Riverside City College, UC Riverside and Oregon before taking the UCSB job five years ago.
“We never got to play in the Lions when I was in high school, but I’ve been there as a coach.
“It’s one of the great recruiting areas for college coaches and pro scouts.”
West Linn coach Mike Monahan knows all about the Lions Tournament.
A graduate of the University of San Diego High (now Cathedral Catholic) in 1991, Monahan also played football at USD.
“I was born and raised in San Diego and still have a lot of family there,” said Monahan. “The Lions Tournament is always the week before Easter and our spring break doesn’t always line up with the tournament.
“But when it does — like this year — I’ll bring my team down.”
Monahan is bringing 37 players — a varsity team and two JV squads, who will play in other tournaments in the county.
The Lions were scheduled to visit SeaWorld on Sunday, play four days, go to Disneyland on Friday, then leave for home from LAX.
“We want the kids to have a total experience,” Monahan said. “We’re thrilled to be in the Classic Division.
“We have a good squad. I think we can compete in that division.”
The Lions are led by 6-foot-7 pitcher-infielder Will Matheissen, who has signed with Stanford.
Pitcher-shortstop Tom Tawa has also signed with Stanford. Shortstop Brandon Pene and pitcher Daniel Ferrario have signed with Oregon State.
All four played basketball on a team that just won its fourth straight state title.
Dozens of San Diego-area players have signed with colleges, including Mickey Moniak (UCLA) and Ryan Orr (San Diego State) of La Costa Canyon, Jack Dashwood (UC Santa Barbara), Dante Gutierrez (USD) and Cyrus Fullen (San Diego State) of St. Augustine, Tristan Duncan (Oregon) of El Capitan, Quinn Hoffman (Harvard) and Cole Mueller (UC Santa Barbara) of Cathedral Catholic, Ben Ramirez (USC) of Eastlake and Dillon Shrum (Nevada) and Sean Ross (Arizona) of Granite Hills.
“I’ve got some other good players, too,” Monahan said. “So I’m hoping the place is crawling with college recruiters so they get a chance to be seen.”
West Linn is in the D Bracket with Montgomery, El Capitan and Cathedral Catholic, which is ranked No. 3 in San Diego.
The A Bracket includes Rancho Bernardo, rankled No. 1 in the county and No. 13 in the nation by MaxPreps, Eastlake (ranked No. 4 in San Diego), Granite Hills (ranked No. 6 in San Diego) and Green Valley of Nevada.
The B Bracket includes Poway (No. 5 in San Diego), St. Augustine (No. 7), Helix (No. 9) and Woodland Hills El Camino Real, ranked No. 74 in the nation by MaxPreps and No. 8 in the Southern Section by the L.A. Times. El Camino Real has a pair of top-flight players in Jeremy Polon and Eric Yang.
The C Bracket is Grossmont, La Costa Canyon (ranked No. 14 in the nation by USA Today), Torrey Pines (No. 8 in San Diego) and Silverado of Nevada.
“The Classic Division is loaded, but we have a division for everyone,” Gallagher said. “We want the smaller schools to have just as good an experience as the larger schools.
“We want everyone to be in a division where they’re competitive.”
Rain or shine, the Lions Tournament ends with 3:30 p.m. championship games Thursday.
The finals will be played at Cathedral Catholic (Classic), Cal State San Marcos (Premier), Westview (6A), Mt. Carmel (5A), Mater Dei Catholic (4A), Bonita Vista (3A), Steele Canyon (2A), San Diego Jewish Academy (1A at noon) and Alliant University (1A Plus at noon).
Winter sports awards
Student-athletes in eight sports will be honored at the winter All-CIF San Diego Section awards night Wednesday at the San Diego Hall of Champions in Balboa Park.
The event, which is free, starts at 7 p.m. with All-CIF first- and second-team members asked to check in between 6:15 and 6:45 p.m. Information at sdhoc.com.