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Coming in to the 2019 season, Righetti's baseball team was facing an uphill battle.

The program lost 11 seniors, nearly 150 innings of pitching and a large chunk of its offense from players who graduated after the 2018 campaign.

Also, the coaching staff underwent a complete overhaul.

Kyle Tognazzini moved up from JV to varsity, taking over for Brian Tomooka, who led the program the previous 14 seasons.

With all that, it would've been understandable to see the Warriors finish behind star-studded San Luis Obispo or always dangerous Arroyo Grande in the Mountain League standings. 

However, Tognazzini, his staff and this group of confident young players made it clear they weren't going to lay down. 

In fact, they climbed the whole Mountain. Righetti is the outright league champ and will start the playoffs next week as a high seed in the CIF Central Section's top division. 

The Warriors went through a lot to get here. 

There was last Tuesday's wild win over San Luis Obispo where they beat Tiger ace Cooper Benson with three runs in the seventh inning to clinch the league title outright.

Before that, they bounced back from an ugly 11-1 loss at Arroyo Grande in early April and won their next 10 games. 

"They kind of embraced that all year long. They have a chip on their shoulder," Tognazzini says. "They play with an everybody-counted-us-out-attitude and I saw it from these guys last year. They didn't like the way they finished last season."

Righetti went 15-13 last year and didn't qualify for the playoffs. 

The Warriors have improved to 20-5 this year with a group of Sandlot-style ballplayers. 

Sophomore Quigley Espinola is the young spark plug. He's the Warriors' leading hitter, batting .446 with a team-high seven doubles and 25 hits. 

Jake Steels may be the best all-around player. He's second on the team with 22 hits and leads the team in runs with 22. He's also stolen 16 bases in 20 tries. 

Joe Hernandez is the low-key veteran in the infield. He's third on the team with 20 hits and has a .299 average, 15 runs and nine RBIs. 

Brandon Giddings was Righetti's quarterback in the fall. He just makes clutch plays. Giddings has more RBIs (15) than hits (13).

Isaiah Navarro does a little bit of everything. He pitches and is hitting .333 on the year with 18 hits, 10 RBIs, four doubles and a triple. 

Ryan Delgado has the type of talent that projects to the next level. The junior is a long and lean third baseman-pitcher. Delgado is hitting .319 with 17 runs, nine RBIs, two triples and two homers.

Senior catcher Sutton Tompkins is the one with all the leading star qualities with talent and plenty of swagger. Either way, he can certainly play. He has a team-high 16 RBIs and two homers.

Tompkins delivered the clutch hit against Benson last Tuesday to finish off the title run.

"Cooper is one of the best pitchers I've ever faced and he's really hard to hit," Tompkins said of his go-ahead, two-out hit. "Honestly, I had two strikes on me and I just tried to put the ball in play and it happened...That was definitely the most exciting win of the season."

Then there's Caleb Dulay. He's unassuming and undersized. But he's been an outright ace. Dulay is 9-0 in 11 appearances with a 0.58 ERA. He's thrown six complete games. 

Tognazzini also gives a lot of credit to his coaching staff, which is made up of Nick Harlow, Wayne Crabtree, Aaron Nesper and James Steels.

"I have the absolute best staff around," Tognazzini said. "I can't say enough about these guys and everything we've done. It's not me. It's these guys. They bought in last summer when we came together and went over what we wanted to do. They've been on-board.

"High school coaches don't do it for money, they do it because they love teaching kids and working with kids and I can't say enough about these guys. I'm just a little piece of this thing."

There's also Righetti's crew of solid reserves.

Sophomore Andrew Gonzalez has come up and provided key innings behind the plate and is batting .250 with eight RBIs in 18 games. 

Zak Taylor has seen spot duty and is second on the team with a .429 batting average. The junior has scored six runs, drove in seven and has two doubles and a triple in 28 at-bats. 

Senior Cristian Mondol has provided key innings in relief and is third on the team with 20 innings pitched. He has a 2.37 ERA with 18 strikeouts.  

Now it's time for the postseason, where the Warriors will go up against the Central Section's best.

Tompkins summed up the team's mentality as the playoffs approach: "Well, no one thought we would win league, so let's see what happens," he said.

Who's in, who's out for CIF playoffs

The CIF Central Section baseball and softball playoff brackets will not be released until Sunday, but most area teams likely know they will have a post-season.

That is because, on the section's website that contains a list of who is in and who is out of the baseball and softball playoffs, Righetti, Pioneer Valley, Santa Maria, St. Joseph and Nipomo's baseball and softball squads are in the "IN," listing.

Orcutt Academy's baseball and softball teams did not make the playoffs.

Arroyo Grande's baseball and softball teams got in.

Righetti's baseball team is in Division 1. Arroyo Grande is in Division 2. The rest of the area baseball teams are in Division 3.

Arroyo Grande's softball squad is in Division 1, Righetti is in Division 2, and the rest are in Division 3.

The first three rounds for all baseball and softball divisions will take place May 8, May 10 and May 15.

Division 2 baseball and softball finals are May 17. Division 1 and 3 baseball and softball finals are May 18.

If the Central Section seedings match the Maxpreps.com rankings, Righetti's baseball squad figures to be seeded high enough to draw a first-round home game.At press time, based on overall record, Righetti was seeded third on Maxpreps behind top-ranked Clovis Buchanan and San Luis Obispo.

Righetti's Warriors edged San Luis Obispo's Tigers for the Mountain League crown. The teams split their two-game series.

Arroyo Grande's baseball team is ranked seventh in Division 2 by Maxpreps. There is a chance of an 8-9 first-round between Ocean League co-champs Mission Prep and Nipomo's baseball squads in the first round of Division 3, though the seeding committee may avoid that since the teams are in the same league.

Unlike the CIF Southern Section, the higher seed hosts each playoff round in the Central Section format. Also unlike the Southern Section, any Central Section squad that does not win a league title can petition to get into the playoffs.

Most of the area squads moved from the Southern Section to the Central Section last February.

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Joe Bailey is the sports editor at Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Contact him with tips and story ideas at jbailey@leecentralcoastnews.com or (805) 739-2239. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jbaileysmsports

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