The Mater Dei Monarchs and the Harvard Westlake Wolverines are very familiar with Cary, North Carolina, home of the National High School Invitational. The event is held at the USA Baseball National Training Center and draws a who's who of high school baseball teams and scouts.
Teams traveled from California, Florida, Utah, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Texas to play in this tournament. Scouts from all MLB teams have flocked to see the top players. The teams fans traveled to stake claim to being the best region for high school baseball.
In the inaugural NHSI last year, Mater Dei cruised through a three-team bracket en route to the finals. They won one of the games 12-0 in five innings. Harvard Westlake cruised into the semifinals before playing a nine inning game which they won 1-0.
In the final, the Monarchs used a Ryan McMahon home run to tie the game in the bottom of the seventh inning, before adding another in the eighth for a 3-2 title win.
Fast forward to this week and it's new year, same result. Both teams are on a path to the finals again. And both are doing it with dominating pitching and timely hitting.
In the opener for Harvard Westlake, Jack Flaherty threw a complete game shutout and struck out 13 in a 3-0 win. Not to be outdone, Conor Cuse threw his own complete game shutout in a 2-0 win in game two. The Wolverines pitchers held up one run leads from the second inning forward. The offense chipped in late in both games to pad the leads. Brian Ginsberg and Casey Rosenfeld have provided a bit of a spark to the Wolverines offense each with RBI's.
Mater Dei came out swinging in the first game en route to an 11-3 victory in the stadium at the NTC. The Monarchs scored eight runs in the fourth inning and cruised from there. The blowout gave coach Burt Call an opportunity to play a lot guys.
Aaron Cross was filthy in his start in game two. Ryan McMahon laced an RBI double in the first and Cross took it from there. The crafty lefty scattered six hits and struck out four with only one walk. Brian Call has been outstanding at the plate for the Monarchs. The sophomore has two multi-hit games to go with two RBI.
As good as Cross was, and he was very good, it was McMahon that won the game for the Monarchs. Leading 1-0 in the top of the 7th, Cross faced runners on first-and-third with one out. With the infield in, McMahon caught a laser line drive and dove to his right to double up the runner at third and end the game.
The play that vaulted Mater Dei into the semifinals was caught on video by Rick Riccobono who represents USA Baseball and helps put on the event. You can see it here.
Before either team can look ahead to what could be a finals rematch Saturday, there is the issue of the semifinals.
Mater Dei will the play The Woodlands (TX) tomorrow in one semifinal game. Harvard Westlake will play Venice (Fla.) in the other. Neither team is a pushover.
For Mater Dei the path may be easier, if only by chance. The Woodlands played two games today after not arriving until yesterday. The second game went 14 innings.
Harvard Westlake faces what Baseball America has ranked the number two team in the land. They've won two games by four runs and neither seemed that close.
The experience of having been there before is certain to help the two southern California teams. And if they are to reach the finals tomorrow, the question about the best region for high school baseball will definitively be answered for the fans.