Saints rally past Cougars at National Classic
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- It was one of many great matchups at the Anderson Bats National Classic: Norco (Calif.) taking on No. 24 Notre Dame Prep (Scottsdale, Ariz.).
There was an intriguing matchup on the mound, as one of the top pitchers in Arizona -- Casey Upperman -- faced a lineup that included two of the state's top players, Wes Hatton and Matt Hobgood.
Hobgood is one of the top pitchers in the nation and today, as the DH, he showed he can hit as well.
David Jones, a 6-foot-4 senior, got the start for the Cougars, as Upperman took to the mound for the Saints.
Through three innings, Jones was on top of his game. He surrendered only one hit through his first three with four strikeouts. He kept the Saints' batters off balance and mixed his pitches well.
His only blemish through his first four innings was a home run to first baseman Jordan Luvisi. He turned on what looked like a high fastball and sent it over the left-center wall, cutting into Norco's 2-0 lead.
Upperman was just as good through four, showing why he is one of the best arms in Arizona. His only mistake was a 0-1 fastball that Hobgood blasted over the right-field wall. It was a no-doubter, the only question was how far it would travel.
In the first meeting between Upperman and Hobgood, the Saints' ace bested the Cougars' DH, getting him to ground out on an off-speed pitch. With the success Upperman had throwing Hobgood off-speed pitches, it surprised everyone when he tried to sneak a fastball past him. Hobgood did not miss it, giving the Cougars their 2-0 lead.
Things got interesting heading into the fifth inning for both pitchers. In the top half of the fifth, the Saints sent 10 men to the plate and pushed across five runs. Jones, who seemed in control through the first half of the game, struggled with his location and the Saints' offense capitalized. Drew Ozanne and Tony Piazza both had RBI doubles, making the score 6-3.
With Upperman looking like he was in control, the wheels fell off for the righty. Norco sent 10 men to the plate after Notre Dame Prep had done the same thing earlier in the game.
It started when Norco's leadoff hitter, Joseph Lavalle, was hit by a pitch and Upperman then followed with a walk to shortstop Hatton. That brought up Hobgood, who in his previous at-bat took Upperman deep. Remembering that, Upperman tried to bust Hobgood inside and one of Upperman's offerings was right under Hobgood's chin.
After some words were exchanged between Hobgood and Upperman, the Norco DH walked to load the bases. Two singles, a double and an error later, and Norco took an 8-6 lead.
Notre Dame Prep pushed two more runs across in the sixth inning, tying the game at 8.
Junior Kevin Ryan came in for relief of Upperman and pitched well. He was a stark contrast to the hard-throwing righty, showing a noticeable change in velocity. He kept the Cougars off-balance and made them impatient at the plate.
Tied going into the top of the seventh, Tayler Scott came up with a runner on second and two out. Facing Norco's fourth pitcher of the game, Alfonso Solano, Scott bounced one through on the right side, scoring Robert Kohnen to push the Saints ahead 9-8.
Notre Dame Prep's Ryan shut the door on Norco quickly in the bottom of the seventh, preserving the 9-8 win.
With the win, the Saints march on to a meeting with the No. 2 team in California, the Mater Dei Monarchs on Tuesday at 1 p.m. PT.
Andrew Drennen covers high school baseball for ESPN RISE