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Friday, March 30, 2012
Top NYC team plays on without injured star

By By Lucas O'Neill

Nelson Rodriguez & Fernelys Sanchez
Nelson Rodriguez (left) has been forced to play without George Washington (New York) teammate Fernelys Sanchez, who is out with a broken leg, at the USA Baseball H.S. Invitational.
CARY, N.C. -- George Washington (New York) has had a rough go of it so far at the USA Baseball National High School Invitational. The lone representative from the Northeast, the Trojans fell to Parkview (Lilburn, Ga.) 11-3 on Wednesday and Russell County (Seale, Ala.) 8-0 on Thursday.

Unlike most of the teams at the tournament, George Washington’s season has essentially just started. They played nine games in March — none against what would be considered national-caliber programs. But the bigger obstacle for the Trojans this week is that they are without star outfielder Fernelys Sanchez, the No. 93 recruit in the ESPN 100.

Well, that’s not technically true. Fernelys made the trip to North Carolina and was there in the dugout for both games, but the large cast on his right leg made playing impossible. Sanchez broke his leg last week when his foot got stuck in the dirt while running the basepaths and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks.

“All I was thinking was just, ‘North Carolina, North Carolina,’ man,” Sanchez recalled. “I was just thinking about this week. I was just really looking forward to joining my team and Nelson…

“It happens, though; it’s baseball," he continued. "Now I’ve just got to adjust to what’s next.”

Nelson would be Nelson Rodriguez, the Trojans’ other senior leader. A star since his freshman campaign, Rodriguez has long been compared to another Trojans’ power-hitter: Manny Ramirez. And the person making the comparison, coach Steve Mandl, is in a position to know: He coached Ramirez at GW.

Rodriguez and Sanchez have been best friends since Little League. One year they were opponents, the next year they were teammates, and the rest is history.

“That’s where everything started right there,” said Sanchez. “From then on, we always played together.”

But that could change next year. While both players have committed to Central Arizona CC, it’s likely that one or both will choose to go pro instead following June's MLB draft. That’s what makes this year all the more important — and Sanchez’s injury all the more disappointing. Still, the Trojans will settle for nothing less than a city championship.

“Now that Fernelys is injured, we have to adjust to the atmosphere,” said Rodriguez. “It’s a big loss and hopefully he gets better soon.”

Playing or not, Sanchez will be there every step of the way.

One-Man Show

Courtney Hawkins led Carroll (Corpus Christi, Texas) over Gulliver Prep (Pinecrest, Fla.) Thursday morning, supplying the game’s only run with a solo blast in the top of the third. Hawkins, No. 26 in the ESPN 100, also pitched 5.1 innings of four-hit ball with nine strikeouts and two walks.

“Courtney kind of showed up today,” said Carroll coach Lee Yeager, whose team entered the tournament No. 2 in the POWERADE FAB 50. “It came down to what he did for us.”

Making the performance more impressive is the fact that Gulliver boasts at least a trio of potential early-round draft picks in Adrian Marin, Chris Chinea and Eric Neitzel. Hawkins did some reconnaissance work before the game to get an edge on the Raiders’ potent lineup.

“I got a little help from some guys in Florida I know that play with them,” he said with a smile.

Giant Killers

Hawkins’ smile was short-lived, figuratively speaking, as within a couple hours his Tiger team was getting trounced by Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.). The Monarchs, who were ranked No. 2 in the preseason POWERADE FAB 50 but had since fallen out of the rankings, had the tournament's toughest draw, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at their box scores.

A day after taking out the nation’s No. 1 team, Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas), by a score of 10-3, Mater Dei defeated No. 2 Carroll by mercy rule, 12-0. Ty Moore led the way for the Monarchs on Thursday, pitching four scoreless innings and hitting a three-run home run.

No. 1*

The radar guns were out in force Thursday as Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.) co-ace Max Fried took the hill against Parkview. The nation’s No. 4 prospect in the ESPN 100, Fried didn’t disappoint, striking out eight in the Wolverines' 10-3 win.

Perhaps more important to the many scouts in attendance, Fried touched 94 mph on the gun and was consistently in the 89-91 range on his fastball. His 80-mph breaking ball was equally devastating. While Fried’s injured teammate, RHP Lucas Giolito, is the No. 1 player in the ESPN 100, Fried might be just as coveted by MLB teams come draft time for one reason: He’s a southpaw.

Harvard-Westlake will face American Heritage (Plantation, Fla.) in the semifinals on Friday.

Come Sail Away

Sarasota (Fla.) is one of the few teams that entered the tournament unranked in the FAB 50, but that could change after the Sailors won both ends of a double-header on Thursday to earn a semifinal tilt with Mater Dei on Friday.

In a morning matchup with Lee County (Sanford, N.C.), Sarasota scored 14 unanswered runs, breaking the game open with five runs in the sixth and another six in the seventh in a 14-2 victory. In the nightcap, sophomore Evan Mendoza went the distance for the Sailors in the 5-3 win.

“This is the best thing I’ve seen done for high school baseball yet,” said coach Clyde Metcalf, who’s in his 31st year at the helm. “Our kids have been really excited about this since it was announced. We’re grateful to be here.”