CARY, N.C. -- Can a pitcher’s duel in which only one run crosses the plate in the course of nine innings be described as a wild game? If so, that’s what transpired Friday as Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.) edged American Heritage (Plantation, Fla.) 1-0 in the semifinals of the USA Baseball National High School Invitational.
The fact that a Harvard-Westlake pitcher threw nine innings of shutout ball shouldn’t come as a surprise. The Wolverines boast two of the three top pitchers in the ESPN 100 in seniors Lucas Giolito and Max Fried, while sophomore Jack Flaherty is a rising star who has filled in brilliantly since Giolito went out with an injury.
But the guy who threw 97 pitches in extra innings on Friday? That’d be Hans Hansen — the Wolverines’ No. 4 or No. 5 starter, depending on how you look at it. Hansen had just two strikeouts but threw 71 percent of his pitches for strikes to help Harvard-Westlake punch its ticket to the NHSI championship at 9 a.m. ET on Saturday (weather permitting).
Hansen’s counterpart from American Heritage, Shaun Anderson, was equally brilliant through 8.1 innings. But the Patriots’ big righty allowed a bunt single with one down in the bottom of the ninth to Flaherty, who would come around to score the winning run on a Fried fielder’s choice that ate up the Patriots’ replacement shortstop.
Why a replacement shortstop? Rewind to the top of the seventh when American Heritage had its best chance to plate a run. Starting shortstop Brandon Diaz reached on a bunt down the third-base line and advanced to second on a sac bunt. He moved to third on a groundball to short, beating Flaherty's tag at the hot corner.
That’s when things got tricky. In the commotion after the bang-bang play, Flaherty held on to the ball and nonchalantly returned to his position a few feet from the base. When Diaz came off the bag, Flaherty tagged him out. Diaz headed to the dugout but returned to third after the umps reversed the call.
“We had timeout called before the hidden-ball trick,” home-plate umpire Steven Sanders clarified after the game. “We never put the ball back in play, so therefore they couldn’t run the hidden-ball trick. I put the ball back in play in error. By rule I couldn’t do it because the pitcher wasn’t on the rubber.”
That explanation didn’t entirely satisfy Harvard-Westlake coach Matt LaCour, but ultimately it didn’t matter. American Heritage pinch-runner Kevin Williams broke for second on the ensuing at-bat but got caught between first and second. Diaz broke for home while Williams was in a run-down but was gunned down at the plate. He had to be carted off the field and reportedly suffered a separated shoulder in the collision.
Williams advanced to third on an error, but Patriots’ leadoff hitter Gabe Aurrecoechea grounded out to end the threat. Somehow, the Wolverines had gotten out of the inning without allowing a run.
“Our defense stepped up every bit of the way in some pretty pressure-packed situations, and you feel pretty good about being a coach on a day like today,” LaCour said.
In the tourney’s other semifinal, Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) downed Sarasota (Fla.), 5-1. Sarasota mounted a serious comeback threat in the seventh, loading the bases with no out for the heart of its order. But senior Chase Radan came on for Mater Dei and induced junior star Jason Sierra into a fielder’s choice (5-2) before striking out senior cleanup hitter Danny Mars and getting a fly to center to stop the threat and earn the save.
The Monarchs’ Ty Moore continued to make his case for tourney MVP, going 1-2 with a run and two RBIs, as well as some highlight-reel plays in the field. The UCLA signee was also pivotal in helping Mater Dei down POWERADE FAB 50 No. 1 Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas, Nev.) and No. 2 Carroll (Corpus Christi, Texas) on consecutive days.
“He’s impressive,” said Burt Call, the Monarchs' 13th-year head coach. “He’s one of the best baseball players we’ve had at Mater Dei.”
The Monarchs will face Harvard-Westlake in an all-California championship Saturday morning in a game that will be streamed live on MLB.com.
Gorman, Gallo Find Stride
Expectations were sky-high for Bishop Gorman entering the tournament, and that was doubly true for Gales' star Joey Gallo, the No. 5 player in the ESPN 100. After struggling mightily in the team’s first two games of the tourney, Gallo managed to find his stride in an 8-4 win over Carroll on Friday.
Gallo still looked visibly frustrated at times — once when he grounded out and again when he was left on deck in the seventh — but he drove in two runs and drew two walks.
“He’s been trying to do too much,” said Gorman coach Nick Day. “I know eventually he’s going to relax and come back to being, you know, the star that he is. And today was a good sign. … He still missed a couple pitches he normally doesn’t miss, but it was a lot better.”
Gallo wasn’t the only one pressing. The FAB 50's top team entering the tournament, the Gales were pounded by Mater Dei in the opener and lost again to Gulliver Prep (Pinecrest, Fla.) on Thursday. Day said he thinks the pressure affected his team.
“It’s tough when you have preseason rankings, especially the No. 1 spot,” he said. “A lot of times I feel like the guys play not to lose. They’re afraid to lose that ranking and sometimes they play a little tight, and I saw that the first two games.”
Just two home runs were hit in the tournament’s first two days — likely the result of college-size field dimensions and the new mandatory BBCOR bats. On Friday, Chris Chinea of Gulliver Prep made it 3-for-3.
The senior catcher and LSU recruit blasted one over the left-field wall in the top of the fourth against Columbus (Ga.), but that was all she wrote for the Raiders. Pierce Ressmeyer hit a two-run single in the bottom of the fifth and Avery Seckinger allowed just two hits in seven strong as the Blue Devils came away with a 4-1 win.