2024 National Champions: From start to finish, we can finally crown Corona (2024)

June 26, 2024
By Andy Sroka
Managing Editor, Scouting

2024 National Champions: From start to finish, we can finally crown Corona (1)

Throughout the spring, our staff ranked the top-50 high school teams in the country, and Corona was seated atop that top-50 from the very start of the season. They briefly slipped to No. 3 overall at one point, but returned to the top spot in the following update, and they never wavered from there. As we put the bow on the 2024 high school season as a whole, we're celebrating Corona as they finish the season ranked as the No. 1 overall team on our list, and we're crowning them as the Prep Baseball National Champions in the process.

Read on below as we reflect on the Panthers' stellar spring that saw them rebound from some narrow losses, morphing them into true champions on the biggest stages of high school baseball.

Rarely do teams of this caliber climb the Everest-like heights to summit the sky high expectations set forth by those both inside and outside of the organization. Yet here we are following the end of the spring high school season nationwide, and the preseason’s most vaunted squad, Southern California’s Corona High School, accomplished everything it set out to achieve at the start of 2024.

Head coach Andy Wise warded over this program in his 15th season at the helm, knowing full well how his program was perceived going into the season. They had a two-headed monster atop its rotation, star underclassmen, several of the top prospects in the country spanning each grad class, and they even added two gifted transfers in between seasons.

Despite charting one of the toughest schedules in the nation as well, Wise and his Corona players knew –and accepted –that they were likely the favorites in each and every game that they would play in 2024, and that excited them.

“In all my years covering California high school baseball, this Corona team dealt with the burden of expectations better than anyone,” said Les Lukach, the Prep Baseball California State Director, who’s been entrenched in the SoCal baseball scene for nearly two decades. “They weren't going to sneak up on anybody, faced every opponent's best, and still managed to come out champions in the end thanks to their deeply talented roster."

OFF AND RUNNING

Lukach has been organizing the Prep Baseball California Spring Invitational for the last three seasons, and this year’s field was stellar, comprised of heavyweight programs like Corona, JSerra Catholic, Huntington Beach, Harvard-Westlake, Orange Lutheran –the list goes on.

This invitational has, generally, marked the start of SoCal baseball the past few years, and it ignited Corona’s season as well. They earned their first win in their opener, which was at the event, a 2-0 victory against Ayala. It was a tune-up game considering what was in store for them. They scored wins over nationally ranked programs Huntington Beach and JSerra, 4-2 and 4-1 respectively, which earned them a place in the tournament’s championship game against Orange Lutheran, another historic program with a nationwide presence.

‘25 SS/RHP Billy Carlson of @CoronaPBaseball.

The #Vandy commit is off to a hot start for the Panthers with three double in his last two games. Seeing the ball very well right now and taking advantage of every AB. Just missed an HR here.#PBCASI @ShooterHunt | @prepbaseball pic.twitter.com/VmrLBBjrrU

— 𝐏𝐑𝐄𝐏 𝐁𝐀𝐒𝐄𝐁𝐀𝐋𝐋 𝐂𝐀𝐋𝐈𝐅𝐎𝐑𝐍𝐈𝐀 (@PrepBaseballCA) February 19, 2024

Rain kept postponing the title game, but finally, three weeks later, the two teams played. This time, OLu handed the Panthers their first loss of the season, 4-2, in a tightly contested ballgame that lived up to the hype that surrounded it.

Yet it didn’t feel as if Corona was knocked off course by any means, and they’d soon prove that to be the case as well.

April arrived and Corona took care of its Big VIII League series contests against Norco, King, and Centennial before heading off to the Boras South Classic. Again, Corona fell just a game short of a championship, dropping the title game to Mater Dei, 5-3, though they beat premier programs La Costa Canyon, Aquinas, and Etiwanda on the way to it.

These title game losses sharpened them up though for a run in the second-half of the season that sprung them back up to the top of our national rankings permanently.

ONWARD TO CARY

Five days after their Mater Dei loss, Corona traveled cross country to participate in the prestigious National High School Invitational at the National Training Complex in Cary, N.C. It was the program’s first-ever appearance in the event.

Corona first took on, and beat, one of Washington state’s top teams, Puyallup, 8-0, and they pitched another shutout in their second game, a 2-0 win over Trinity Christian Academy from Jacksonville, Fla., another one of the country’s best teams. Those two wins staged a semifinals appearance against Huntington Beach, a familiar foe.

Down to their final two outs, losing 5-4 in the bottom of the seventh, the Panthers strung together four consecutive base hits to rally all the way back and defeat the Oilers. 3B/SS Brady Ebel (2025; LSU commit) sparked his offense with a line-drive single to his opposite field, followed by another pair of singles that teed up a huge moment for one of the team’s stars: SS/RHP Billy Carlson (2025; Vanderbilt). Carlson is the team’s slick shortstop and go-to, high-leverage reliever and he launched a clutch liner to deep right-center that landed near the warning track, plenty deep enough to score the walk-off run from second base, vaulting the Panthers into the championship game, which became a rematch with Orange Lutheran from earlier in the spring.

In some ways, the rematch epitomizes the team’s make-up. They were unfazed by the early season loss, and they played their brand of baseball in North Carolina against a program that had won the NHSI three times in its history.

In that title game, they handed the ball to their best player –one who’s becoming one of the best high school prospects in recent memory: RHP/OF Seth Hernandez (2025; Vanderbilt).

(Seth Hernandez; PBCASI, 3/8/24)

He’s competing alongside the famous SS Ethan Holliday (Stillwater HS, OK; Oklahoma State) for the top spot nationally, but Hernandez’s case for No. 1 overall is plenty strong. He’s an athlete inside a prototypical pitcher’s physique, listed at 6-foot-4, 195 pounds; he’s been up to 97 mph for us while wielding an arsenal that would excite both the old school scout and the new school, data-minded evaluators alike; and he’s also arguably Corona’s best hitter who’s competitive to the point where he expects to be involved in every pitch from anywhere on the field.

“Seth is just the best baseball player I’ve ever come across,” said Wise, the Corona head coach. “He really is. What more do you want? He does everything right. He’s coachable, he listens, he’s fun, he’s competitive. He hits bombs, he can work an at-bat, and he wants to play every inning of every game. An absolute dog, in every sense.”

RAISE IT @CoronaPBaseball 🏆 pic.twitter.com/h91uIbXwmX

— Futures Invitational (@USABEvents) April 13, 2024

Hernandez tossed the final two innings against Orange Lutheran the first time the two played back in early March, and he shut them out and K’d three, though the Panthers weren’t able to rally back from their 4-2 deficit at the time. Well, at the NHSI, Hernandez made sure the Lancers never had a lead to protect in the first place. He pitched a complete-game shutout, allowing just four hits, two walks, and he K’d four in seven frames. A two-out error plated Corona’s first run in the second inning, Hernandez protected that 1-0 lead until the Panthers added two more in the fifth.

The performance earned the Vanderbilt recruit the tournament’s MVP award in the process.

THE HOME STRETCH

Despite the quick turnaround, traveling from coast to coast, Corona returned and swept league opponents Centennial in three games, a series that began just two days after hoisting the NHSI trophy. They suffered a blip in a 2-0 loss to La Mirada on April 20, but that was the last time they would lose in 2024. That just underscores the quality of competition that Corona, as well as the rest of these Southern California programs, play on a weekly basis. The NHSI champs were held scoreless by a La Mirada freshman, and while it’s a huge win and upset for the Matadores, that’s the talent lurking in and around Orange County and the Inland Empire.

This is where the coaching and coolness that Wise provides factors into this clubhouse, following bumps in the road that remain just that –bumps, not cracks in the foundation of the team.

“They had been with me for a good long while, for the most part,” Wise said. “I’ve watched them succeed and fail. They could deal with a punch here and there.

“I was the mediator. You have a variety of personalities in that clubhouse. We have some guys that want to come out real early on gameday and get after it. Others who want to take a long time, a long arm care situation, they roll into the day. I left no one any excuse to not be great. I found a way to make it work for everyone, and not just what they need but what they want. I was reliant on them being responsible, and eager, to be at their competitive best.”

They swept league opponents Roosevelt at the end of April, which served as their final chance to ready themselves for the CIF Southern Section Division 1 tournament, the state playoff that might just be the most difficult to win in the country.

"The CIF-SS D1 baseball bracket is the most difficult championship to win in the state of California because of the single-elimination format,” said Lukach. "And Corona had the chance to become the first No. 1 overall seed to win it all since 2001.”

THE PANTHERS AND THE PLAYOFFS

It was a daunting task, but Wise’s Panthers were laser-focused.

Even still, they dodged a first-round upset to El Dorado on May 3. Star senior starter LHP Ethan Schiefelbein (2024; UCLA) K’d seven over four scoreless and Corona’s relievers kept the door shut from there, though they couldn’t break through on offense themselves until the bottom of the seventh inning when Carlson struck his second extra-base hit of the game, and this one it traveled over the fence. The solo homer sent the Panthers onto the next round in a rematch with Mater Dei, which bested them earlier in the season.

As Wise referenced above, this group could take its punches without being rattled, which was necessary after the Monarchs struck first in this ballgame after a leadoff double came around to score on a balk by Hernandez. Mater Dei clung to that 1-0 lead all the way until the sixth too, but the unflappable Panthers tied it on a solo homer from another one of their star performers, OF Anthony Murphy (2026; uncommitted), who just finished his sophom*ore season but he's one of the country’s top ‘26s already.

(Anthony Murphy; Prep Baseball ProCase - West, 6/2/24)

Murphy was one of the team’s “question marks” headed into the spring, as his inexperience would be a natural unknown for a team with hopes as high as Corona’s. But he quickly dismissed any doubts and replaced them with outright confidence as one of the team’s top performers, regardless of class.

“Everybody’s trajectory was going up – everyone, everyone was going in the right direction – but how can [Murphy] be even better,” Wise said, reflecting on the expectations he placed on his young outfielder at the start of the spring. “And he did it. He continued to elevate his game. And he’s a great kid, a hard worker, just an immensely talented baseball player. He’s also a great teammate. He’s calm, he don’t get down. He gets excited, but he never gets down, I like it. He stays in the game 24/7 and helps others do the same.”

Murphy hit .384 this spring with an OPS over 1.000, and his five homers (including his timeliest one versus Mater Dei) trailed only Hernandez (7) for the team lead.

The game stayed stuck at 1-1 through seven frames, carrying the contest into the eighth where Murphy, again, came through. His clutch two-out, RBI single handed the Panthers the late lead, and Hernandez helped his own cause by singling home an insurance run later in the inning.

Hernandez then earned the first out of the bottom of the eighth before reaching his pitch count limit, and his shortstop Carlson hopped on the mound to face the top of the Monarchs’ order with two outs to go. He got a quick punch-out and then pitched over a two-out single to secure the team’s berth in the CIF-SS D1 quarterfinals against Aquinas, another SoCal powerhouse.

This ballgame was slightly less dramatic, by Corona’s standards, thanks in part to a first-inning three-run home run off the bat of Billy Carlson, aided by a pair of two-out Aquinas errors. With the dependable Schiefelbein on the mound, the Panthers felt like they had a steadier course to the semis. Aquinas got a run back right away in the second, but Carlson connected for his second homer of the game, a solo shot, and Corona staved off a late rally to reach the next stage of the playoffs.

The semifinals matchup would be the third meeting between Huntington Beach and Corona of 2024, and the Panthers were seeking a third consecutive win of the spring over the Oilers.

The game was scoreless through three, a familiar place to be in with Hernandez starting on the bump. He sparked a two-out rally in the fourth, however, with a base knock. Hernandez raced to third on a single, and then scored himself on a wild pitch to break the scoreless tie. The Oilers rebounded by hitting a solo homer off Hernandez in the top of the sixth to tie it back up, 1-1, off the bat of then-sophom*ore MIF CJ Weinstein (2026; uncommitted) – it was the first and only home run Hernandez allowed in the spring.

But, heroically, the legend of Seth Hernandez grew taller in the bottom of that same frame. Following a Brady Ebel single, Hernandez swatted a two-run, go-ahead home run of his own to recapture the lead. Carlson was tasked with locking down the save in the seventh and he did so in 1-2-3 fashion, and the Panthers were in the CIF-SS D1 title game where they’d face Los Angeles’ Harvard-Westlake, the team with the No. 1-ranked senior in the country, while playing like one of the best teams in the country.

‘25 RHP/OF Seth Hernandez of @CoronaPBaseball. #Vandy commit takes this 90mph FB DEEP to LF for a 2R BOMB to give the Panthers a 3-1 lead in B6. #PBRAAG23 alum helps his cause with his first hit of the game. @ShooterHunt | @PrepBaseballCA pic.twitter.com/jZ2HFtD7aj

— 𝐋𝐞𝐬 𝐋𝐮𝐤𝐚𝐜𝐡 (@LesLukach) May 15, 2024

Though it felt like whichever team Hernandez played for was the team that was going to win.

"In his first season of high school baseball, Seth Hernandez established himself as one of the premiere talents in the state and nationally,” Lukach said. “Whether it was touching 97 mph in his first outing of our Spring Invitational, or hitting a monster home run in the semifinals of the playoffs, Hernandez became a must-watch prospect everytime he was on the field."

.@CoronaPBaseball wins the @CIFSS D1 championship 5-0 over #HarvardWestlake @ShooterHunt | @prepbaseball pic.twitter.com/omWh164Nhz

— 𝐏𝐑𝐄𝐏 𝐁𝐀𝐒𝐄𝐁𝐀𝐋𝐋 𝐂𝐀𝐋𝐈𝐅𝐎𝐑𝐍𝐈𝐀 (@PrepBaseballCA) May 19, 2024

With that said, the Panthers didn’t need Hernandez’s heroics to win the CIF-SS D1 title. Schiefelbein had some of his best stuff of the year in his final game as a prep, and that was plenty enough for Corona to back him offensively. Scoreless through three, the Panthers put up three runs on OF Sam Burgess’ (2024; TCU) home run, Schiefelbein went three up, three down a half-inning later, and Corona made it 4-0 after that, which felt like the ballgame. The UCLA recruit retired nine of the final 10 batters that stepped into the batter’s box, including a clean seventh inning, and Corona was finally crowned CIF-SS D1 champion, culminating in a special season and one of the very best in SoCal’s storied prep baseball history.

CORONA CROWNED

Corona capturing the prestigious CIF-SS D1 championship is particularly meaningful to the community as a whole.

“This is a small community,” Wise said. “Corona, this is a big city, but a tight-knit community. Everyone knows everybody. You start doing some wrong, it gets out. But if you start doing some right, that gets out too. So, keep doing what you’re doing. This is important to a lot of people. This is the oldest school in the area, been around since 1896. Every school around here – Santiago, Roosevelt, Centennial – is newer, so all of their parents and their grandparents went through Corona. Everybody has a small place in their heart for the Panthers.

“Magical year, man. Everything we wanted to get done, we did.”

Postgame interview with @CoronaPBaseball Head Coach Andy Wise after the Panther win @CIFSS D1 championship. pic.twitter.com/TvmO5GzTs7

— 𝐏𝐑𝐄𝐏 𝐁𝐀𝐒𝐄𝐁𝐀𝐋𝐋 𝐂𝐀𝐋𝐈𝐅𝐎𝐑𝐍𝐈𝐀 (@PrepBaseballCA) May 19, 2024

Corona didn’t shy away from its goals in 2024, this group set out to win the NHSI and the CIF-SS tourney in the same year. They were fully aware of what kind of history they’d be making, they feared no superstition. It was not in arrogance, but in confidence, it was goal-oriented. They knew they were everyone’s No. 1 squad in the preseason, so there was no point to pretend that they were anything else.

Typically, when special seasons like this one come and go, the program is naturally prepared to graduate its best players. Of course, Corona will have to perservere through 2025 without the likes of Schiefelbein, Burgess, and their reliable, everyday backstop Josh Springer (2024; Oregon), but the majority of this roster remains intact.

This will present itself with different challenges, as Wise will need to manage his seniors like Hernandez, Ebel, and Carlson as they weave around the MLB Draft process, but Corona’s sights will still be set on the ultimate prizes in the sport.

Wise said this about the team’s lofty expectations in January: “We figured, we’re gonna be favored in every game all year. Why are we playing the underdog role? We are the favorites. There’s no secrets. Let’s get ready and go do it.”

They’ll carry that same mentality with them again come 2025, this time as reigning champions.

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2024 National Champions: From start to finish, we can finally crown Corona (2024)

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