Tournaments : : Story
Thursday, March 28, 2013

Burnett sharp on Day 2 of NHSI

Allan Simpson        
Photo: Perfect Game
Unbeaten Woodlands Seeks Title, Repeat of Team’s 2006 Success

CARY, N.C.—It’s only March and his team still has the most challenging part of its schedule ahead of it, but The Woodlands (Texas) High coach Ron Eastman showed no hesitation in comparing his unbeaten 2013 squad to his 2006 club, which went 38-1, won the Texas 5-A state championship and claimed a mythical national title.

The Highlanders stretched their record to 20-0 on the current season with a hard-fought, 2-1 win over Jenks (Okla.) High Thursday morning in the first game of the tournament for both clubs at this year’s National High School Invitational, which has brought together 16 of the nation’s top high-school teams, including nine in Perfect Game’s Top 50.

The Woodlands entered the event, played at USA Baseball’s national training center, ranked anywhere from No. 1 to No. 5 in the country, depending on which of three national polls is referenced. And their hopes for a second national title in eight years could all hinge on their ability to win four games in four days against a formidable national field.

Obviously, we still have a long way to go, but this team definitely compares very favorably to our 2006 club,” said Eastman, who has compiled a 316-86 record in 12-plus seasons at the helm of the Highlanders. “Both teams have great chemistry with no egos, and it’s been a total team effort. We’ve also gotten great pitching again.”

Though this year’s Highlanders club doesn’t have a true power arm of the order of righthander Kyle Drabek, who went 14-0, 1.00 with 155 strikeouts in 91 innings for The Woodlands in 2006 on his way to becoming a first-round pick of the Philadelphia Phillies in that year’s draft, it has five players committed to major Division I colleges, and also features one of the nation’s elite high-school sophomores in Chris Andritsos.

The Woodlands has gotten strong performances to date on the mound from its two most established arms, Oklahoma State-bound senior righthander Carter Hope and TCU-bound senior lefthander Ryan Burnett. Both pitchers have no-hitters to their credit this season, and Hope hasn’t allowed a run in his first six outings.

Burnett was called on in the team’s tournament opener Thursday and nearly spun another no-hitter against Jenks, as he held the Trojans (ranked No. 37 nationally in PG’s latest poll) hitless through five innings, before surrendering three straight hits to lead off the bottom of the sixth after the Highlanders had broken a 0-0 deadlock with two runs of their own in the top of the inning.

But those were the only hits the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Burnett allowed on the day, and he managed to wiggle his way out of trouble by allowing only one run to score in the sixth. He then saved his best for last, displaying his best fastball of the game in the seventh and striking out the side. Typically topping out at 88-89 mph through the first six innings and mixing his pitches effectively, Burnett reached back for a little extra in his final frame and hit 91 several times.

My adrenalin was really flowing in that last inning, and I threw mostly fastballs,” Burnett said.

Ryan typically gets stronger in the sixth and seventh innings because he’s in such good shape,” Eastman added, “and it was important that we got a complete game out of him today because our staff isn’t really all that deep, especially for a tournament like this, where we’ll play four games in four days.”

The Highlanders struggled to produce much offense for Burnett against highly-touted Jenks righthander Thomas Hatch, an Oklahoma recruit who went the distance himself and allowed just three hits (all singles), but they were able to manufacture two runs on the strength of a passed ball and squeeze bunt.

Hatch, who topped at 92 while suffering a tough loss, did an admirable job of holding The Woodlands slugging first baseman, Andritsos, in check, hitting him with a pitch in his initial at-bat before inducing him to hit into three routine ground-ball outs in his remaining plate appearances.

The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Andritsos is one of the elite prospects in the 2015 draft class and leads the nation with 11 home runs this season, including several mammoth blasts.

He’s a once in a lifetime kind of talent,” Eastman said, “but obviously his reputation is starting to precede him. He didn’t see some of the pitches today that he was getting earlier in the year.”

The talented Andritsos is also a pitching prospect of some note and was clocked up to 92-93 mph last summer following his freshman year at The Woodlands. But he has typically been clocked only in the mid-80s this spring, Eastman said, as he has focused more on hitting after coming off high-school football in the fall and still hasn’t progressed into peak pitching condition. Andritsos is scheduled to get his chance on the mound on Saturday—possibly with the championship of the NHSI on the line.

Because Texas high-school federation rules forbid teams from playing sports of any kind on Wednesdays, The Woodlands was forced to delay its first game of the tournament until Thursday, and will be required to play a second contest this afternoon, when it hooks up against unranked Milton (Ga.) High, which won its opening game Wednesday.

The real test for the Highlanders, though, will almost certainly come Friday and Saturday, when they will likely face the power and mite of California, which is represented by three teams (all unbeaten when the day started) in the tournament, including No. 2-ranked Cathedral Catholic and No. 4 Mater Dei, the event’s defending champion.

If The Woodlands can survive that hurdle, a consensus No. 1 national ranking will assuredly be in the offing—and another national championship will be theirs for the taking if they can continue their undefeated ways.

Venice Takes Down Cathedral Catholic, Thwarts Dominance of California Schools

With an all-California final in last year’s inaugural tournament and teams from the Golden State a collective 5-1 after two days of play in this year’s National High School Invitational, a case can easily be made that the best, most-competitive baseball in the country is played in California.

Mater Dei High is the tournament’s defending champion and stands 2-0 to date in its return engagement, while Harvard-Westlake High, the team that lost in the final to Mater Dei a year ago, is also undefeated after two rounds of play. Mater Dei stayed perfect Thursday by defeating Lexington (S.C.) High 1-0, while Harvard-Westlake blanked Bingham (Utah) High 2-0.

But Cathedral Catholic High, a third team from California in the 16-team tournament and the highest-ranked squad from the state at No. 2 in Perfect Game’s ranking of the nation’s top high-school teams, failed to preserve the state’s perfect track record at the NHSI as it unexpectedly bit the dust Thursday afternoon, losing to Florida’s Venice High 7-3. It was also the first setback of the season for the Dons.

With Venice ranked No. 3 nationally, Thursday’s Cathedral Catholic-Venice game technically pitted the best team from California against the top-rated club from Florida, and Florida gained the upper hand—if only for one game—with the win.

I don’t think you can read too much into one game,” said Venice coach Craig Faulkner, whose team won the Florida state 7-A championship a year ago and is off to 13-1 start this season. “It’s obvious teams from California play a tough brand of baseball, but we play some great baseball in Florida, as well.”

Venice jumped out to an early 5-0 lead against Cathedral Catholic after three innings, only for the Dons, who may have more pro-level talent on its roster than any team in the tournament, to close the margin to 5-3 with three runs in the bottom of the inning.

That’s when Faulkner went to his ace in the hole, side-arming righthander Cooper Hammond, who went the rest of the way and retired all 12 Cathedral Catholic batters he faced to pick up the win. Hammond, a Miami recruit who won 10 games and saved six others a year ago for the Indians on their run to a state title, kept Dons hitters off balance throughout with his different look and the sinking action he got from a steady assortment of fastballs, curves and changeups. Hammond struck out four in his four perfect innings of work, and induced eight ground-ball outs.

Cooper comes from a low angle,” Faulkner said, “and not only is his ball very difficult for hitters to pick up, but he throws a lot of strikes. He gets great sinking action on his pitches and hitters just pound the ball into the ground, which plays into the real strength of our team, which is a very strong infield defense.”

Faulker had hoped to get a fourth inning out of his starter, righthander Tyson Albert, but had a change of heart after Albert made just three pitches in the fourth inning and appeared to be laboring, and went immediately to Hammond, who stopped Cathedral Catholic in its tracks.

Cooper usually works only an inning or two, but he puts so little strain on his arm coming from the angle he does and is so efficient at throwing strikes that he could still give us an inning tomorrow, if we need him.”

With their win Thursday, Venice will play Harvard-Westlake, a second California team, in one of Friday’s two semi-final games. Mater Dei High will draw the winner of The Woodlands (Texas) High and Milton (Ga.) High, the final game on the schedule Thursday, in the other semi-final, and the possibility obviously exists for Venice to take on all three California entries.
Copyright 1994-2018 by Perfect Game. All rights reserved. No portion of this information may be reprinted or reproduced without the written consent of Perfect Game.