Tournaments : : Story
Friday, March 29, 2013

Harvard-Westlake advances at NHSI

Allan Simpson        
Photo: Perfect Game
Also see: 2013 NHSI Scout Blogs

Even With Loss of Two First-Rounders,

Harvard-Westlake Pitching Still Dominant

CARY, N.C.—California’s Harvard-Westlake High could be excused if it didn’t have enough frontline pitching to be competitive in this year’s National High School Invitational. After all, the Wolverines lost two first-round arms to the 2012 draft.

Undaunted, Harvard-Westlake (12-2) has spun shutouts in every game over the first three days of the 16-team NHSI to move on to Saturday’s championship game for the second straight year. The team’s latest dominant pitching performance came Friday in a 6-0, semi-final win over Venice (Fla.) High, ranked third nationally in Perfect Game’s ranking of the Top 50 high-school teams.

Righthander Hans Hansen was not overpowering with a fastball that peaked in the mid-80s, but tossed a three-hitter and never allowed a Venice runner beyond second base. He walked two and struck out five.

In Harvard-Westlake’s two earlier tournament games, sophomore righthander Jack Flaherty threw a route-going three-hitter with no walks and 13 strikeouts in a 3-0 win over Eustis (Fla.) High on Wednesday, and senior righthander Conor Cuse tossed a four-hitter with a walk and eight strikeouts in a 1-0 win over Bingham (Utah) High on Thursday.

A year ago, Harvard-Westlake’s vaunted pitching staff included the likes of lefthander Max Fried, who was taken by the San Diego Padres with the seventh overall selection in the draft, and righthander Lucas Giolito, who was chosen with the 16
th overall pick by the Washington Nationals. They were a formidable pair and represented two of the highest set of teammates ever drafted off one high-school pitching staff.

As it turned out, Giolito did not pitch in the 2012 NHSI, played at USA Baseball’s national training center, because of a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, which later required Tommy John surgery, and his departure, along with Fried, left what appeared to be a gaping hole on the front end of this year’s Harvard-Westlake staff.

But Flaherty, Cuse and Hansen have more than filled the void for the Wolverines here this week.

The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Flaherty, who has evolved into the team’s No. 1 starter in the absence of Fried and Giolito, topped out at 89 mph in spinning his shutout. He is viewed as a top prospect for the 2014 draft, but most scouts see Flaherty’s upside more as a corner infielder than as a pitcher. Neither Cuse nor Hansen has attracted much attention from scouts this week, though Cuse, in particular, has made significant strides this spring as a pitching prospect, and topped out at 87 Thursday.

Hansen, meanwhile, worked primarily with a fastball in the 83-85 mph range Friday, but kept Venice High hitters off balance throughout with his ability to command his off-speed stuff, especially his slider. A day earlier, a Venice lineup with six Division I recruits had little trouble handling California’s top-ranked team, No. 2 Cathedral Catholic High, 7-3, in a quarter-final contest.

Oddly, Hansen also tossed a shutout for Harvard-Westlake in its semi-final game a year ago against another highly-rated team from Florida, Plantation’s American Heritage High.

No matter who is on your staff, you never think of ever pitching three straight shutouts coming into a tournament, especially one of this stature,” Wolverines coach Matt LaCour said, “but I think what happened last year, with Lucas going down, was really a blessing in disguise for us as it thrust Hans into a role he was unaccustomed to, and he really stepped up and responded. He was so much better prepared to pitch today because of his performance here last year.

I’m not sure what it is with him, but for some reason he just seems to like pitching here in North Carolina.”

Hansen’s shutout a year ago propelled the Wolverines into the championship game, which they eventually lost 3-2 in extra innings to California rival Mater Dei High, and there is a chance the two California teams could meet again in this year’s final as Mater Dei entered play Friday undefeated and in position again to advance to the championship game.

Mater Dei must first beat The Woodlands (Texas) High, the nation’s top-ranked team, in the other semi-final, scheduled later in the day. Harvard-Westlake is ranked seventh nationally by PG, and Mater Dei fourth.

Asked who might draw Saturday’s starting assignment in Harvard-Westlake’s bid for a fourth straight shutout (and tournament championship), LaCour said he didn’t have an obvious choice as his team, not unexpectedly, had pretty much run out of experienced arms.

Our staff is a little thin at this point,” LaCour said. “We’ve been fortunate—and also unfortunate, to a degree, I guess—in that we haven’t had to use our other pitchers much so far this season, though we have three or four kids that we can pick from. We’ll contemplate tonight who we’ll use and find out tomorrow just what we’ve got left.”
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