If the Baseline League gets any better, it may not be able to contain itself.
Contain its meetings to league play, that is.
Two years ago the league sent a team to the semifinals of the vaunted CIF-SS Inland Division. Last year it was two in the semifinals. At the current rate, it’s only a matter of time until they run into each other.
Rancho Cucamonga, which has won a league-best four playoff games the last two seasons combined, doesn’t even enter league play tonight as the defending league champion. That distinction goes to Upland, which didn’t lose a game last season of any kind until its 12-game winning streak was halted by Vista Murrieta, which won the CIF championship a week later.
Two seasons ago, league champion Rancho Cucamonga wasn’t eliminated from the playoffs until the end of the second overtime period of its semifinal with Vista Murrieta.
Plenty of the faces are new at Upland and Rancho Cucamonga, but the expectation is the same.
“I guess it has come down to the two of us that last two years,” Rancho Cucamonga coach Nick Baiz said. “So it could definitely happen again this year.”
The league rotation just so happened to schedule Upland and Rancho Cucamonga’s meeting – the first one of the season, at least – for tonight. But in a league that claimed three of the four semifinal slots in both 2008 and 2009 in the Central Division, there is plenty of depth to be dealt with.
“I still think, like anything else, although this game has big implications, no matter what happens we’ve still got four games to play,” Upland coach Tim Salter said. “And traditionally teams don’t go undefeated in league.”
Upland quarterback Nate Romine, who last season was reliant on a running game good enough to graduate the rest of his backfield to the University of Colorado, is now creating his own ground game. Romine’s 402 yards make him the team’s leading rusher to go along with 935 passing yards and seven touchdowns for an offense that averaged 43 points per game on the way to a 5-0 start.
Rancho Cucamonga’s calling card is a defense that allowed just 13.8 points per game during a 4-1 start. The Cougars’ only loss came courtesy of a 13-point second-half comeback in a 24-23 loss to Anaheim Servite on Sept. 1.
Rancho Cucamonga has four players on the defensive side of the ball alone who will be playing on Saturdays next season, including arguably the best defensive back duo in the country. USC-committed cornerback Chris Hawkins and Tahaan Goodman, the No. 2 rated safety in the nation on rivals.com, team with linebackers Viliami and A.J. Latu to form a fearsome unit.
Los Osos (2-3), which claimed the final playoff spot last season, got out to a promising start this season before losing two lopsided games the last two weeks, the last of which was a 52-7 defeat at the hands of Covina Charter Oak without its quarterback. Stephen Johnson, who was ejected from a 54-33 loss to Norco, had to sit out the following game, leaving Oregon State-bound receiver Victor Bolden to fruitlessly run the wildcat most of the night against Charter Oak.
Etiwanda, whose game with Los Osos has decided the third playoff spot the last two years, has suffered each of its losses via blowout. Under new coach Tommy Leach, the Eagles (2-3) only two wins have come courtesy of two teams with a combined 2-8 record.
“I think you’re going to see a big turnaround in league from Etiwanda,” Salter said. “Maybe they were just getting used to their new coaches, but I know that team’s got talent.”
After winning a total of just two league games in its two seasons in the Baseline League, by all accounts Glendora (2-3) is much improved this season. The Tartans, who have played a quality nonleague schedule, could make the race for the final playoff spot more interesting that usual.
Alta Loma (4-1), which nearly defeated Glendora last season, is off to its best start in seven years in the hopes that its newfound confidence will lead to the end of its 15-game league losing streak.
*Rancho Cucamonga 5-0
*Los Osos 2-3
Alta Loma 0-5
* – automatic playoff berth