High-SchoolBaseball: J.T. Phillips

Howard named ESPNHS coach of the year

June, 22, 2012
6/22/12
10:06
AM ET
Bobby HowardCourtesy of Columbus High SchoolColumbus (Ga.) head coach Bobby Howard led the Blue Devils to their third straight state title, which was their 12th overall, and the No. 2 spot in the FAB 50.
There were high expectations for the 2012 Columbus (Ga.) baseball team. And with good reason.

The Blue Devils, with eight seniors in their starting lineup, were seeking a three-peat after winning Class AAA state titles in 2010 and 2011.

"The players, fans and coaches all knew we had a lot of talent returning," said head coach Bobby Howard, who's coached Columbus for nearly 30 years and has a 787-187 record at the school. "So we scheduled the best teams we could find, and it paid off in the end."

The Blue Devils won a state-record-tying 12th title, all since 1984, which was Howard's first year as coach. They also finished with a 33-4 record and the No. 2 spot in the final FAB 50 national rankings.

While the team finished runner-up in that poll, the state's most successful coach was runner-up to no other coach this season. Howard was named the ESPNHS National Baseball Coach of the Year on Friday.

"We had good team chemistry and leadership the last four years," Howard said. "And with three good pitchers, we felt we could have competed with any team in the country."

The Blue Devils went 2-1 at the USA Baseball National High School Baseball Invitational in North Carolina, beating Gulliver Prep (Pinecrest, Fla.) and Lee County (Sanford, N.C.) while losing a 1-0 decision to Orange Lutheran (Orange, Calif.).

Columbus also split with Georgia's largest class (AAAAA) champion Parkview (Lilburn, Ga.), beat AAAAA state runner-up Brookwood (Snellville, Ga.) and defeated a Florida Class 6A state runner-up Pace (Fla.). In addition, the team went 4-1 against Troup County (LaGrange, Ga.), with the only loss coming in their best-of-three state semifinal series.

"The schedule definitely helped us reach our goals," Howard said. "The players also took charge and left their own legacy with three straight state titles."

Those players included seniors Kyle Carter and JT Phillips, who played as freshmen on the 33-4 team in 2009 that finished as state runner-up. The two University of Georgia recruits also were teammates on the 2006 Columbus team that captured a Little League World Series title.

Carter, a left-handed pitcher/center fielder, was 12-2 on the mound with a 0.98 ERA. He batted .302 with 14 homers and 31 RBIs. Phillips, who played third base and shortstop when not pitching, batted .453 with six homers. He was 10-1 on the mound with a 0.71 ERA.

The third pitcher in the rotation was Avery Seckinger, who will be a walk-on candidate at Georgia. Seckinger went 5-1 and was one of the team's most improved players, according to Howard.

Another improved player this season was senior third baseman and Missouri recruit Josh Lester, who batted .321. Lester and fellow senior Ryan Lang also were members of the 2006 Little League World Series title team.

The only non-senior in the lineup, junior infielder Hunter Swilling, will return next season as the Blue Devils return to Class AAAA, where they competed before dropping to Class AAA in 2005.

While the players may change at Columbus, the head coach who's guided the school to a dozen state crowns and six state runner-up finishes remains the same.

You can now add ESPNHS National Baseball Coach of the Year honors to Howard's résumé, too.
Max FriedCourtesy of Matt LaCour/Harvard-WestlakeSenior lefty Max Fried will lead Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.) into this week's USA Baseball National High School Invitational
Four days, 16 teams, 32 games -- however you slice it there is going to be a lot of baseball played between Wednesday and Saturday during the USA Baseball National High School Invitational.

But the event isn’t just about quantity. There’s plenty of quality on hand. Six teams in the POWERADE FAB 50 made the trip to Cary, N.C., along with 10 players in the ESPN 100. The tournament kicks off with American Heritage (Plantation, Fla.) facing Oxford (Ala.) Wednesday at 11 a.m. ET, and it culminates with the championship on Saturday at noon ET in a game that will be streamed live on MLB.com.

Here’s a look at the top storylines to follow as the event unfolds.

Life without No. 1

Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.) had a dream rotation lined up for the spring with top right-hander (and No. 1 overall prospect) Lucas Giolito and top southpaw Max Fried both on the roster. But in his third start of the season on March 6, Giolito left the game with what was later diagnosed as a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. UCL injuries lead to Tommy John surgery, so Giolito did the wise thing and shut it down. He remains extremely unlikely to pitch again this season.

Fortunately for the Wolverines, fate dealt them a second ace for the 2012 season. Fried transferred to Harvard-Westlake after his old school, Montclair Prep (Van Nuys, Calif.), announced it was cutting all extracurricular activities just a couple months before the school year began. Rated the nation’s No. 4 overall prospect, Fried struggled a bit early in the season but has been nails since Giolito went down. In his most recent start last Friday, Fried fanned 14 over five innings in a 9-3 win against Lancaster (Calif.).

Stepping into the No. 2 spot in the rotation is sophomore RHP Jack Flaherty. In the second game of the doubleheader against Lancaster last Friday, Flaherty earned the win on the mound and also smacked a home run. So yeah, don’t count Harvard-Westlake out quite yet.

Titletown

The players on this year’s Columbus (Ga.) baseball team know a little something about winning. In addition to claiming the past two Class AAA state crowns, the Blue Devils boast four players who were on Columbus’ Little League World Series championship team in 2006. Kyle Carter, J.T. Phillips, Josh Lester and Ryan Lang keyed the Little League run, and they haven’t slowed down since.

Carter and Phillips have both pledged to Georgia, but they’d undoubtedly love to add a new piece of hardware to their already loaded trophy cases before they take the next step in their careers. It’s no long shot, either, as Columbus currently sits at No. 3 in the POWERADE FAB 50.

Thawing Out

Of the 16 teams in the tournament, 14 hail from traditional baseball hotbeds. Florida, California and Georgia are each represented by three squads, Alabama will send two, and Texas, Nevada and North Carolina send a team apiece. The remaining two teams don’t quite fit the warm-weather bill, however.

George Washington hails from a few blocks north of Yankee Stadium in New York City, while Highlands Ranch is located in the Denver suburbs. But just because the players on these two teams are handy with a snow shovel doesn’t mean they aren’t adept with a bat and glove as well.

George Washington features a pair of elite talents in outfielder Fernelys Sanchez and catcher Nelson Rodriguez. Sanchez fractured his fibula in a game Saturday and will miss the event, but the power bat of Rodriguez and a deep pitching staff should allow the Trojans to contend for the tournament title.

Highlands Ranch is led by right-hander Ryan Burr. The No. 72 recruit in the ESPN 100, Burr fanned a staggering 95 batters in 53 innings last spring. The Arizona State pledge will get plenty of help in North Carolina from returning All-State picks RHP/SS Tony Audino and C Adam Gauthier.

Young Money

With elite senior prospects on display like No. 4 Fried, No. 5 Joey Gallo of Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas), No. 12 Lucas Sims of Brookwood (Snellville, Ga.) and No. 26 Courtney Hawkins of Carroll (Corpus Christi, Texas), the Class of 2012 is very well represented. But don’t sleep on the talent from the Class of 2013.

Leading the way for the juniors is a pair of catchers: Zach Collins from American Heritage (Plantation, Fla.) and Jeremy Martinez from Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.). Collins is hitting a team-best .500 so far this season through 16 games, while Martinez is coming off a sophomore campaign in which he batted .388 and drove in 32 runs.

Parkview (Lilburn, Ga.) outfielder Josh Hart and Columbus (Ga.) righty Hunter Swilling are another couple juniors to watch. Meanwhile, Sarasota (Fla.) junior outfielder Jason Sierra has already pledged to Vanderbilt.

Sleeper?

Not a single player from Oxford (Ala.) has been mentioned thus far, but the Yellow Jackets have the kind of pitching depth needed to make some noise at an event like this in which teams have to play four games in four days.

A pair of SEC-bound senior right-handers lead the staff in Tucker Simpson (Florida) and Jackson Stephens (Alabama). Each is also dangerous at the plate, but it’s senior outfielder Matthew Goodson who’s the most lethal with the lumber. The Alabama pledge blasted 22 long balls last spring.

Senior hurlers Zach Lovvorn and Frazier Taylor each won seven games last season and provide serious depth at the back end of the rotation. And then there’s Trent Simpson, a budding superstar for Oxford in the junior class.

Add it up, and that just might be the winning formula.

SPONSORED HEADLINES