The Mission High Bears are one of the fastest-rising baseball programs in the entire Bay Area. (Courtesy Dan Pino)

City baseball set for best postseason in years

One of the most prominent storylines in San Francisco sports over the last few years has been the rise of the Academic Athletic Association — and that continues with baseball this year.

Yes, Lowell has been a dominant force over the past few years and is gunning for a sixth-consecutive city championship, but the Cardinals are far from the only strong program right now. Rival Washington is always a threat, Lincoln has put together a solid campaign and Mission is one of the fastest-rising programs in the entire Bay Area.

There won’t be a Lowell-Washington rematch for the championship this year since the two programs are set to meet in Thursday’s semifinals. Lowell (20-9, 14-1 AAA) claimed the regular-season title behind an offense averaging nearly seven runs per game, with five starters batting over .300, headlined by Owen Mahoney (.439), Alex Bradshaw (.352) and Levi Humphrey (.349), the team’s RBI leader.

Mahoney and Bradshaw are both two-way players, with the former posting a 0.33 ERA and a 6-2 record on the mound, holding opponents to just 27 hits in 42 1/3 innings. Nigel Wilhelm has also been a vital part of the pitching staff with a 2.78 ERA, and Lucas Moore has an ERA of 1.77 despite a 4-4 record. Washington (10-16, 6-9) will hope to upset the Cardinals with a big performance from junior Christian Wong, who leads the team in almost every offensive category.

Mission’s ascension under manager Chris Ayag has been a steady progression since he took over the program in 2015, but the Bears announced their presence this season with a bang, taking powerhouse Sacred Heart Cathedral to extra innings in a season-opening loss. Since then, the Bears have been a force, and a second-place finish in the standings makes them a favorite to reach their first city title game since 1990.

C.J. Pino has done a little bit of everything for Mission (16-8, 11-4), batting .400 and leading the team with six doubles and 15 RBI. On the mound, he’s 4-1 with a 2.66 ERA, and all four of his wins have been complete games. The Bears have six other regulars batting at or above .300, with Artus Tran posting a team-high 25 hits. Sophomore J.T. Howells doesn’t have the contact numbers that some of the lineup does, but he has a pair of homers despite playing so many games on expansive fields. Adam Sabatino and Will Cohen have also been sharp on the mound, occasionally working with Pino behind the dish.

Even with Lowell’s legacy — one that started under John Donohue and has continued with Daryl Semien, uncle of Oakland Athletics shortstop Marcus Semien — this year’s push for the title should be wide-open. The Cardinals did sweep the regular-season meetings with Washington, but both were tight games. Mission did the same against Lincoln, needing a sixth-inning outburst to win the first of those showdowns. Lincoln is also the only team to beat Lowell in league play, doing so in a 20-10 doozy a day after being walked off by the Cardinals in 12 innings.

Both of Thursday’s semifinals are set for 3:30 p.m. at Big Rec in Golden Gate Park. Lowell and Washington will battle at Graham Field, while Mission will face Lincoln (12-12, 9-7) at the adjacent Nealon Field. While finding parking in the area can be a struggle, it should make for an afternoon of great baseball against the picturesque backdrop of the Botanical Garden and the Academy of Sciences.

Washington advanced to the semifinals with a 10-0 win over Burton, while Lincoln beat Leadership 12-2. The championship is set for Monday at AT&T Park, also to begin at 3:30, and the champion will advance to the annual Transbay Series against the Oakland champion.

Prep Focus writer Ethan Kassel covers high school sports throughout the Bay Area. If you have a story tip, game to watch or player to track, email him at ethankassel@gmail.com

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