The Orange Lutheran Lancers baseball team will head to Cary, NC for the inaugural National High School Invitational which will feature 16 teams from across the country.
Orange Lutheran heads into the tournament with plenty of momentum after winning three league games this week over Mater Dei (also a NHSI participant), St. John Bosco, and JSerra. The Lancers improved to 10-2 overall and 5-0 in the Trinity League. Pitching and defense has been the key for the Lancers during their six game winning streak. Seniors Art Vidrio and Brent Wheatley, along with Sophomore Garret King, have shown flashes of brilliance on the mound.
After scuffling in a win to start the season, Vidrio, the onetime Cal State Fullerton commit, has been borderline dominant in his last three starts going 3-0 while allowing only two earned runs. Vidrio is not overpowering sitting 82-84 with his fastball, but he mixes in his change up about 76-78 and curve he can drop down to 70.
Wheatley, who suffered a mild ankle sprain after his first start, has bounced back to win his last two starts. His sits 85-87 with his fastball which he combines with a 72-74 curveball and 78-80 change up. The Southern Cal signee shutout JSerra this week by pounding the fastball while using his change up as the out pitch. Wheatley struck out 7 JSerra batters on the night.
King has been a pleasant surprise for the Lancers. The sophomore came into the season with loads of talent and few expectations given the depth of pitchers available to head coach Eric Borba. Despite several upper classmen ahead of him in the fall, King is the third starter for the Lancers. After back-to-back complete game shutouts to start his varsity career, King scuffled to find the zone against St. John Bosco. Couple that with two Lancers errors which led to two runs and King threw his shortest outing of the season going only 5 innings. King, who carries a 3.7 GPA, has ace material already with command and control of four pitches - fastball, curveball, change, and a slider.
Starting shortstop and Pepperdine signee, Cody Nulph, has developed into a great fit as the teams closer. He sits 83-85 with his fastball and uses a curveball and changeup to keep hitters off balance. Nulph has given up 2 hits and 0 earned runs in 8 innings of relief work.
The defense is led by Duke signee Connor Sullivan in center field, shortstop Nulph, junior, and LBSU commit, Jason Martin in left field, junior second baseman Travis Blue, senior right fielder Matt Carlson, sophomore third baseman Josh Morgan, junior catcher Matt Stumme, and senior first baseman Tommy Bell. This defense is being touted as one of the best in Orange County this season and one of the best to come through the Trinity League in several years. Nulph and Blue have been playing together for 7 years and the rapport is evident. Sullivan, Martin, and Carlson, all have plus speed to go along with plus arms and plus instincts. Morgan has one of the strongest arms in southern California and continues to impress with his maturity on the field while playing the hot corner. Stumme is consistently hovering around 2.0 to second base, and Bell is a serviceable first baseman.
Offensively the Lancers will not hit for a ton of power at their home field, Hart Park (very similar to Blair Field in Long Beach), which forces them to be good at the little things. Sullivan is batting over .500 for the season and sets the table for the rest of the team. One through nine they can lay down a bunt and they hit-and-run as good as anyone. Carlson and Morgan each had a successful squeeze bunt against JSerra. Away from home the batting averages seem to go up, but much of that has to do with playing at high school field during the day as opposed to night games at Hart Park, home to Chapman College.
Playing in the Trinity League provides the Lancers with great competition on a nightly basis. Playing in the NHSI will provide Orange Lutheran the opportunity to measure themselves against some of the best competition in the country. The Lancers hope to keep the momentum going 2,500 miles away from home.