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Who will start season No. 1 in high school baseball?

When the 2009 high school baseball season came to a close, an undefeated team from Sumrall, Miss. stood atop the MaxPreps Xcellent 25 national baseball rankings. Can the Bobcats do it again?

Sumrall, which went 36-0 and won its second straight 3A state championship, is one of 10 teams in the running for the preseason No. 1 ranking by MaxPreps when the Xcellent 25 rankings premiere in mid-February. With 12 returning lettermen, the Bobcats seem to be the favorite in Mississippi, but will they be No. 1 in the country? Here’s a look at the 10 teams who have a shot at the preseason No. 1 ranking.

Sumrall (Miss.), 36-0
The Bobcats had little trouble getting through the 3A state championship last year, winning their 10 playoff games by an average of 10 runs per game. While state MVP Jared Miller is gone, the Bobcats still have plenty of talent on the mound and at the plate. Luke Lowery, a junior, went 10-0 last year with 103 strikeouts and also batted .480. Meanwhile, Jackson Posey was a heavy hitter last season, batting .505 with 60 RBI and 10 home runs as a junior. Chase Lewallen also earned all-state honors with a .435 batting average and five home runs. The Bobcats also had three other solid sophomores on the roster last year in catcher Austin Knight (.342 batting average last year), second baseman Barron Conner (.349) and outfielder Austin Carter (.468).
Photo by Louis Lopez
Henry Owens, Edison

Naples (Fla.), 33-1
The Golden Eagles finished second in the final MaxPreps Xcellent 25 rankings after winning the Florida 4A state championship. Naples loses Josh Patton, the area player of the year, and Ryan Sadler, who was drafted by the Minnesota Twins; however, all-area players Brad Fieger (.452, 6 HR, 18 DBLs) and Kyle Zech (.447) return at third base and outfield, respectively. The Naples outfield should be solid with Cameron Griffin (.390) and Bobby Oliver (.362) joining Zech. Pitching will be a concern, although Griffin was 5-0 last year.

Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas, Nev.), 40-4
The Gaels got off to a rough start last year, losing three of their first four games, but they were nearly unbeatable the rest of the season with a 39-1 record down the stretch en route to the Nevada 4A state championship. Replacing Gatorade State Player of the Year Jeff Malm won’t be easy, considering he hit 17 of the Gaels’ 72 home runs. Bishop Gorman also loses standout pitcher Stephen Manthei and outfielder Joey Rickard. The Gaels are still loaded, however, with Erik Van Meetren back at catcher after setting a national record with five home runs in a game last year. He’s joined by standout Joey Gallo, who batted .402 with six home runs as a freshman last year. Meanwhile, Johnny Field is back after batting .518 with 14 home runs and a whopping 78 runs scored.

Alonso (Tampa, Fla.), 31-3
The Ravens knocked out outstanding teams from Lakeland, Lake Brantley and Columbus to win the 6A title in Florida. Thomas Dorminy, a MaxPreps All-American, was 12-0 on the mound last year and was the Hillsborough County Pitcher of the Year. He’s joined on the mound by Jose Fernandez (7-1, 2.98, 73 K) while Tyler Ding (.463, 4 HR), Tito Martinez (.385) and Matt Brandy (.385) fill out the defense.

IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.), 31-1
It was difficult at times to tell just how good IMG Academy was last year since it played a freelance schedule and did not participate in the Florida state playoffs, but a regular-season win over eventual 5A state champion South Fork boosted the Brandenton-based team to No. 7 in the final national rankings. John Ryan Murphy, a second-round pick by the New York Yankees, is gone, but pitchers Jimmy O’Neill (8-0) and Casey Mulholland (6-0) are back, along with shortstop Dillon Moyer (.398), outfielder Gavin Patton (.418) and infielder Richard Baerga (.350). IMG Academy will also participate in the Anderson Bat Classic in April against some of the top competition in the country.

Edison (Huntington Beach, Calif.), 23-6
The Chargers reached the CIF-Southern Section championship game before falling 1-0 to Capistrano Valley, which was sparked by an outstanding performance by MLB first-round draft pick Tyler Matzek. Much like Matzek dominated batters last year, Edison’s Henry Owens could do the same in 2010. The 6-foot-5 junior was a standout this fall at the World Wood Bat Assn. World Championships in Florida and he was an All-Southland pick by the Los Angeles Times. Edison has 11 returning lettermen with infielder Kyle Jones (.370) and outfielder Eric Snyder (.354) earning all-league honors along with Owens.
Photo by Jim Redman
Toller Boardman, Bellaire

Bellaire (Texas), 34-4
After spending much of the season at the top of the MaxPreps Xcellent 25 rankings, the Cardinals fell to Brazoswood in the Region III semifinals. However, Bellaire should still be one of the top teams in Texas this year thanks to the return of eight players who earned all-district honors, including MVP Toller Boardman, who was one of the top sophomore pitchers in the country last year. Also back are first-team all-district players Kyle Chaskin and Alex Silver in the infield, Aaron Hafer and Kirby Taylor in the outfield and Daniel Gerow at catcher.

Yucaipa (Calif.), 27-3
Knocked out in the quarterfinals of the Southern Section Division II tournament, Yucaipa returns 17 letterman from last year’s team, including pitcher Taijuan Walker, who figures to be a high draft pick in June. Walker batted .427 but was also 4-0 on the mound with a 2.82 ERA. Pitcher Pedro Cota also returns after going 10-0 with a 1.34 ERA. Matt Davidson is gone after being drafted with the 35th overall pick in the MLB draft, but first baseman Wyatt Padgett (.443), second baseman Grady Espinosa (.329), pitcher Caleb Nazario (.455), utility Wilson Stewart (.348) and outfielders Bret Meservey (.400) and Brian Derryberry (.426) all return.

Jesuit (Tampa, Fla.), 26-3
Made a surprisingly early exit from the Florida 5A state playoffs, but returns 15 letterman from last year’s team, including an outstanding pitching staff. Daniel Gipson was 9-2 last year with a 2.04 ERA while freshman Lance McCullers had six saves and batted .443 while earning MaxPreps Freshman of the Year honors. Willi Martin also returns on the mound after going 10-1 with 55 Ks.

Moody (Corpus Christi, Texas), 37-4
The Trojans fell just short of a state title, falling to Texas in the 5A championship game. While standout pitchers like Justin Meza (16-1) and Andrew Cantus (14-1) are gone, Moody has plenty of offensive firepower with the likes of all-district honorees Michael Franco (.410) at second base, Kyle Mungia (.339) at designated hitter, Marcos Villanueva (.405) at catcher and Justin Perales (.459) at first base.

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