CARY, N.C.—California’s Mater Dei High entered USA Baseball’s National High School Invitational with a modest 7-3 record and No. 26 national ranking, but after four straight wins against elite-level competition, Monarchs coach Burt Call believes his team made enough of a statement to be ranked No. 1.
“After the way we played in this tournament, I think we do,” said Call. “That was quality national competition we faced.”
The Monarchs (11-3) clinched the inaugural 16-team event—perhaps the closest thing to a true national championship in high-school baseball—by edging fellow California prep power and No. 22-ranked Harvard-Westlake 3-2 in extra innings in the championship game Saturday. They pushed across the winning run on a two-out, bases-loaded single in the bottom of the eighth inning by senior outfielder Ryan Barr.
On its road to the championship game, Mater Dei outscored its opponents by a combined 27-4 margin—knocking off No. 1-ranked Bishop Gorman High 10-3, No. 2-ranked Carroll High of Corpus Christi 12-0 and unranked but nationally-prominent Sarasota (Fla.) High 5-1.
Harvard-Westlake (12-3-1) also advanced to the deciding contest with a 3-0 record and gave the Monarchs all they could handle. The Wolverines took an early 2-0 lead, and held a 2-1 advantage with one out in the bottom of the seventh before a long home run by junior first baseman Davis Tominaga tied the game.
Mater Dei then won it an inning later when team sparkplug Ty Moore, arguably the tournament’s most valuable player, reached on a one-out error, stole second and moved to third on an errant pickoff. After two intentional walks, sandwiched around a strikeout by cleanup hitter Ryan McMahon, loaded the bases, Barr drilled the first pitch by Wolverines reliever Alex Rand-Lewis to left field for his game-winning hit.
“We were pressing a bit early, not taking quality at-bats,” Call said, “but we finally began to settle down and you could sense the momentum changing in our favor in the seventh.”
Tominaga’s home run was the second of the game for Mater Dei. McMahon, who doubles as the starting quarterback for Mater Dei’s nationally-prestigious football program, went deep in the fourth inning for the team’s initial run.
In all, Mater Dei hit three of the six home runs recorded in the tournament after hitting just one in 10 games prior to traveling to North Carolina.
The final game of the tournament turned out to be much more of a pitcher’s duel than anticipated as both teams were playing their fourth games in four days.
In Harvard-Westlake’s case, it went with senior righthander Brandon Deere, who generally throws in the 81-83 mph range and is considered no better than the No. 4 arm on its staff. It was Deere’s first appearance in the tournament, but he pitched admirably for seven innings, allowing six hits (including the two home runs) while walking none and striking out just a single batter.
Mater Dei, which began the 2012 season ranked No. 5 by Perfect Game before struggling early against in-state competition and slipping in the national rankings, used mostly a patchwork staff, deploying three pitchers who had all worked earlier in the tournament.
Starter Chase Radan, a senior righthander who saved the Monarchs 5-1 win over Sarasota High on Friday, pitched the first three innings, and left trailing 2-0 after allowing single runs in the first and third innings. Tominaga, Mater Dei’s starter in its win against Bishop Gorman, worked a scoreless fourth, striking out two, before turning things over to Moore.
After pitching four scoreless innings two days earlier against Carroll High, the 6-foot, 190-pound righthander, a UCLA recruit, threw four more scoreless frames against Harvard-Westlake to earn his second win of the tournament.
Moore also went 5-for-12 at the plate, homered and drove in six runs, and made one of the top defensive plays in the tournament in his team’s semi-final win over Sarasota when he ran down a long fly ball in right field.
“He was a factor in every game,” Call said. “He plays with such energy and there’s rarely a game when his talent doesn’t show up in some way.”
Harvard-Westlake, ranked No. 2 nationally to begin the 2012 season, entered the inaugural NHSI at an acknowledged disadvantage as it didn’t have the services of its best pitcher, righthander Lucas Giolito, who ranked as an early favorite to be the first overall pick in this year’s draft. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Giolito strained the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow early in March, shortly after being clocked in triple digits, and continues to rehab the injury.
Giolito’s absence didn’t seem to matter to the Wolverines—at least, not until the final inning of the tournament—as they found plenty of pitching to win three straight games, all route-going efforts, including a thrilling 1-0, nine-inning win over Florida’s American Heritage High in the semi-finals.
Deere then proceeded to handcuff Mater Dei for six innings, moving to within two outs of a fourth straight complete-game effort for his team, before serving up the game-tying homer to Tominaga. He finally turned the game over to Rand-Lewis, Harvard-Westlake’s first relief pitcher in the tournament, in the eighth.
H-W coach Matt LaCour didn’t want to use Giolito’s absence as an excuse for losing the title game in trying fashion, but it was evident that the big righthander might have been a difference-maker.
“Not having Lucas for this tournament is stating the obvious,” a disappointed LaCour said. “But not many gave us a shot to go to extra innings in the championship game against a team like Mater Dei. Our guys really stepped up and performed in his absence.
“We just got in a bad spot in the last inning with a couple of errors, but you have to give their hitter (Barr) credit for putting a good swing on the ball.”
The championship game was originally scheduled for 12 noon Saturday, but moved up to a 9 a.m. start because of the threat of rain. As it turned out, a steady rain at 9 o’clock at USA Baseball’s national training facility made the game unplayable. The weather finally relented later in the morning and the championship tilt started almost precisely at its original noon starting time, and finished under sunny skies.
Seven other consolation games, including a third-place contest between Sarasota and American Heritage, were washed away.
That left the stage alone to two high-profile California private-school teams, located roughly an hour apart from each other in suburban Los Angeles, to battle it out 2,500 miles from home with a potential No. 1 national ranking on the line.