Mater Dei advances to finals as Moore continues to come up big
CARY, N.C.—In the first two days of USA Baseball’s National High School Invitational, California’s Mater Dei High used an explosive offense to pound its way to easy wins over the nation’s top two ranked teams. On Friday, the Monarchs showcased the depth of their pitching staff in a 5-1, semi-final win over Florida’s Sarasota High, possibly the nation’s most decorated prep baseball program over the last 25 years.
Mater Dei’s latest triumph over a top-flight opponent has propelled it into Saturday’s championship game at the inaugural NHSI tournament, a 16-team event that has attracted a number of the top baseball teams and programs from around the country.
The Monarchs (3-0) will play either California’s Harvard-Westlake High, the nation’s No. 14-ranked team, or Florida’s 22nd-ranked American Heritage High in the final. Those teams, both 2-0, met in the other semi-final game Friday.
While the Monarchs were only 7-3 and ranked 26th nationally entering tournament, they have taken on and taken down all comers with remarkable ease to date, with three pitchers combining to scatter seven hits in their latest win over Sarasota.
Sophomore righthanders Charlie Vorsheck and Brian Conley limited the Sailors to just a single run while striking out six through six innings, before senior righthander Chase Radan came on in the seventh inning to bail Mater Dei out of its only real jam of the game. Facing a bases-loaded, none-out situation, Radan retired all three batters he faced without allowing a run to score.
“Our pitching did a clutch job today,” Mater Dei coach Burt Call said. “I didn’t really want to have to use Radan in that last inning because I wanted to start him tomorrow, but I think we should still have enough pitching to get us through the tournament.”
Mater Dei’s offense was not nearly as explosive as in its first two games, when it registered a combined 30 hits. The Monarchs managed just seven safeties, but they bunched three of them in the bottom of the fifth inning when they scored three times to break open a 1-1 deadlock.
Senior right fielder Ty Moore, a UCLA recruit who has played a pivotal role in all three wins for Mater Dei, drove in his team’s first two runs—the first coming in the third inning on a sacrifice fly, the second coming on a base hit in the decisive fifth to drive in center fielder Austin Grebeck (son of former big leaguer Craig Grebeck), who opened the inning with a double. Moore also made possibly the defensive play of the game when he ranged far to haul in a long fly ball with a leaping grab against the right-field fence.
Moore had two hits in his team’s opening round, 10-3 win over Nevada’s Bishop Gorman High, which entered the tournament as the nation’s No. 1-ranked team, then worked the first four innings of Mater Dei’s 12-0 win over No. 2-ranked Carroll High of Corpus Christi, Texas, while also driving in three runs.
Success on a national stage is really nothing new to the 6-foot, 190-pound Moore, who was named the Most Valuable Player at Perfect Game’s 85-team World Wood Bat Association fall championship last October in Jupiter, Fla. He went 7-for-19 in that event for the champion Marucci Elite team, and is on pace to duplicate his MVP performance with his performance to date in this national-level tournament.
“He’s definitely one of the best kids to ever come through our program,” Call said. “He can do it all, and just loves to compete with his all-or-nothing approach.”
Even before the success they’ve enjoyed in this tournament, Mater Dei had evolved into one of the elite baseball programs in California in Call’s 13 seasons coaching the program. But his accomplishments at the school pale in comparison to those achieved by the school’s legendary football program, which has won two national championships and produced two future Heisman Trophy winners (John Huarte in 1956, Matt Leinert in 2011) through the years.
Call’s accomplishments at Mater Dei also fall a little short of the success that Sarasota High’s baseball team has enjoyed over the last quarter century. Under 31-year head coach Clyde Mecalf, Sarasota has won six Florida state titles and two mythical national championships (in 1989 and 1994), while also producing three first-round draft picks in a four-year span (righthander Matt Drews in 1993, lefthander Doug Million in 1994 and lefthander Bobby Seay in 1996).
But on Friday, the day belonged to Mater Dei’s highly-impressive baseball program.
Harvard-Westlake knocks out American Heritage, creating all-California championship
With Harvard-Westlake beating Florida’s American Heritage High in a tightly-contested 1-0, extra-innings thriller in the second semi-final game of the inaugural National High School Invitational, the championship final shapes up as an all-California affair.
Harvard-Westlake will take on state rival Mater Dei, a 5-1 victor over another Florida school, Sarasota High, in the other winner’s bracket game, in what shapes up as a winner-take-all contest Saturday with both state and national bragging rights at stake.
“California vs. California, let’s go,” exclaimed an excited Harvard-Westlake coach Matt LaCour, moments after his team pushed across the only run of the game in the bottom of the ninth. “We feel we play the best, most-competitive brand of baseball in the country, on a day-in, day-out basis, so we feel it’s only fitting for us to come clear across the country and play each other for the championship.”
Harvard-Westlake scored the only run of the game on a slowly hit ball to short by Max Fried with Wolverines sophomore third baseman Jack Flaherty, who had reached base on a one-out bunt single, getting an excellent jump off third and scoring when Patriots shortstop Brandon Lopez couldn’t field the do-or-die play cleanly.
Flaherty had advanced to second on a walk to catcher Arden Pabst, and astutely moved on to third on a pitch in the dirt that American Heritage catcher Zach Collins blocked, but couldn’t retrieve quickly enough to make a play on Flaherty.
Before Harvard-Westlake pushed across its late-inning tally, the Wolverines’ Hans Hansen and American Heritage’s Shaun Anderson, both junior righthanders, locked horns in the best-pitched game of the tournament.
Hansen worked all nine innings, allowing eight hits and a walk while striking out just two, while Anderson, a University of Florida recruit, matched him pitch for pitch before being relieved by senior lefthander Brandon Diaz, who came in to pitch to the lefthanded-hitting Fried.
“Hansen gets all the credit for this win,” LaCour said. “He pitched his tail off. He competed on every pitch, and went from our closer to a nine-inning guy today.”
Hansen, whose fastball topped out in the low-80s, was not only forced to start but work deep into the game for Harvard-Westlake, which has played the entire tournament without the services of ace righthander Lucas Giolito, who was an early favorite to be the first player drafted this year before straining the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow in early March.
Flaherty and Fried, a second Wolverines pitcher projected to be an early first-round pick in June, had already worked the first two games of the tournament for pitching-thin Harvard-Westlake. The Wolverines plan to start senior righthander Brandon Deere against Mater Dei in what will be the fourth game in four days for both teams.
Not all the action in the game was confined to the bottom of the ninth inning. With the score deadlocked at 0-0 in the top of the seventh in an otherwise very quick and cleanly-played game to that point, a bizarre series of events took place with American Heritage at bat.
Junior second baseman Brandon Diaz (the second of two players with that name on the Pirates roster) led off the frame for the Patriots with a bunt single and advanced to second on a sacrifice. He then gambled on a ground ball hit directly at Harvard-Westlake shortstop Brian Ginsberg by taking off for third, but was safe when Ginsberg’s throw pulled Flaherty off the bag.
Flaherty then appeared to squelch the Patriots late-inning rally when he caught an unsuspecting Diaz edging off third with a carefully-crafted hidden-ball trick. The umpires initially called Diaz out, but later reversed their call when one of the base umpires claimed he had called time just before Stephens slapped a tag on Diaz.
Given a third new life, Diaz was finally thrown out at the plate on a perfectly-executed first-and-third steal situation by the Wolverines. Freshman first baseman David Villar initiated the play for the Patriots by breaking for second, and Hansen reacted by throwing the ball to second baseman Alex Horowitz, who then relayed it to first baseman Joe Corrigan while in the process of chasing Villar back towards first. Corrigan promptly wheeled and threw the ball across the diamond to Flaherty at third, hoping to catch Diaz going bag to the bag, but he had broken for home, and Flaherty’s throw to Pabst nailed Diaz, who dove head first and appeared to separate his shoulder. He had to be escorted off the field.
Two innings later, Harvard-Westlake upstaged all that drama and in the process punched its ticket to the championship game—an all-California showdown.