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National Classic Preview

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The 26th Annual Anderson Bat Company National Classic Baseball Tournament gets underway Monday, April 6th. The tournament features 16 of the top teams from their respective areas including 10 from Southern California. The tournament is once again hosted by Esperanza and El Dorado High Schools and will be played at those two sites as well as Cal State Fullerton’s Goodwin Field. The championship will be played Thursday, April 9th at Goodwin Field at 7:30pm.

Tournament Director Marcus Jones has once again assembled a great roster of teams for this year’s event highlighted by national power IMG Academy (Bradenton, FL). Other participants include Orange Lutheran (Orange, Calif.), West Ranch (Santa Clarita, Calif.), Christian Brothers (Memphis, TN), Ayala (Chino Hills, Calif.), Cypress (Cypress, Calif.), Santa Margarita (Santa Margarita, Calif.), Spanish Fork (Spanish Fork, UT), Monte Vista (Danville, Calif.), Loyola (Los Angeles, Calif.), Xaverian (Brooklyn, NY), JW North (Riverside, Calif.), De La Salle (Concord, Calif.), Agoura (Agoura, Calif.) in addition to co-hosts Esperanza (Anaheim, Calif.) and El Dorado (Placentia, Calif.).

“We are looking forward to another great tournament,” said Jones who played in this event while in high school at Esperanza. “We have some talented teams that are sure to make a deep run in their respective divisions.”

Over the course of twenty-six years this event has had six National Champions and thirty-eight State Champions. The tournament has also seen 375 participants drafted.  Needless to say it one of the preeminent baseball tournaments in the country.

Below are previews of the first round matchups. For full and updated brackets be sure to check www.national-classic.com regularly as they are updated at the end of every game.

Game 1 – 10:00am – Esperanza HS
Christian Brothers v Ayala

Christian Brothers comes into the National Classic ranked #17 in the country by MaxPreps.com and are off to a 15-1 start a year after losing in the opening round of the state tournament in Tennessee. Senior INF Jack Bennet is the lynchpin of the offense and team captain.

Ayala comes into the game on a hot streak winning of five-of-their last six. The Bulldogs have a nice mix of veterans and newcomers contributing to their success. Erik Cha (Cal State Fullerton), Jonathan Buckley (St. Mary’s) , and Matthew Acosta (USC) provide great depth on the mound. Acosta is also leading the team in hitting (.528) while sophomore Josh Bozoian (.487) and senior Timmy Nelson (UCSD) (.386) are also seeing the ball well.

This is the classic matchup of two unknowns facing each other which means anything could and probably will happen. I’d expect a tight game early before one team begins to get it going offensively and ultimately move on in the winners bracket.

Game 1 – 10:00am – El Dorado HS
Agoura v JW North

Agoura comes into the National Classic as one of the hottest teams in SoCal at 11-2 while outscoring opponents at a near 2:1 rate. The Chargers are one of the most offensive teams in the Southland. With four senior Division 1 signees (Matt Lautz (UCSB), Joey Grezske (Arizona), Ryan Fineman (Indiana), Bryce Fehmel (Oregon St.) along with a few in the underclasses, the Chargers are a team with one goal in mind and that is to play for the CIF SS Championship. Before that though, they are one of the favorites in this tournament.

JW North comes in a game over .500 at 6-5 but don’t be fooled by the record because the have talent all over the field, they’re just looking to put it altogether and this event presents that opportunity. Shane Martinez (Arizona) is one of the areas best shortstops. Sophomore left handed pitcher Mikey Martinez (0.89 ERA) will be a Division 1 pitcher as will freshman right hander Tony Bullard (0.88 ERA). Juniors Christian Koss (.485) and Brian Martinez (.386) pace the offense.

This is one of the more intriguing first round games in the tournament in my opinion simply because it matches the power of Agoura against the pitching prowess of JW North. Can the Huskies young arms out duel the veteran hitters of the Chargers? That’s the storyline here. Keep in mind that JW North is fielding at .889 clip having committed 30 errors so far this season. That may come into play in this one.

Game 2 – 1:00pm – Esperanza HS
West Ranch v Orange Lutheran

Orange Lutheran is flying under the radar this year but has the talent to make a deep run in the postseason. The Lancers  (9-2) are hitting as well as anyone in Orange County and the pitching appears to be working itself out after a bumpy start. Cole Spear and Luke Mattson provide the Lancers two quality arms at the top of the rotation. Seniors Josh Bissonette and Garret Calvert provide the leadership for an otherwise young defense. Garret Mitchell (UCLA), Nathan Flores, and Zach Lew are all future collegiate players at their respective positions. Orange Lutheran got some bad news this week when sophomore second baseman Tristan Hanoian was ruled out 3-4 weeks after being stepped on his non-throwing hand that resulted in several stiches and minor ligament damage.

West Ranch is limping into the tournament on the heels of a 6-5 record where they haven’t won more than two in a row. As a team they’re hitting .308 but they also carry a 2.49 ERA as a staff. Shortstop Jagger Rusconi (USC) is a legitimate draft candidate this year hitting .471 with 3 HR and 10 RBI. Junior Jason Drees appears to be the heir apparent to Rusconi as the Wildcats next best player. The first baseman is hitting .379 with an OBP over .500.

These two head coaches have a little bit of a history as West Ranch knocked OLu out of the playoffs in 2012 with a 5-4 win in the quarterfinals. That was then and this is now which is why the Lancers have to feel good about this matchup. If they can get a quality start out of Mattson or Spear their offense should be able to handle the rest. West Ranch however has the ability to hit mistakes and one swing of the bat could mean the difference in this game. Should be a highly competitive game in Round One of the National Classic.

Game 2 – 1:00pm – El Dorado HS
De La Salle v Santa Margarita

De La Salle enters the National Classic with California’s top prep draft prospect in left-handed pitcher Justin Hooper and his fastball that works in the 94-97 mph range. Scouts are sure to flock to his start. However, the Spartans are not a one-man show as they feature an offense that has six players hitting over .350 led by senior Michael Reuling and his .571 average. The pitching staff is a little thin after Hooper and they carry a 2.53 ERA as a team.

Santa Margarita is defending CIF SS Division I champions but the Eagles graduated their top two arms. The Eagles enter the tournament with a 7-4 record that includes two losses to Nevada powerhouse Bishop Gorman. Coach David Bacani told me they’re getting it done with pitching and defense and the scores of their games would indicate. The Eagles have won seven games by a 31 run differential.

This is another game that features two unknowns between teams that don’t have much history together. If Hooper is on his game the Spartans will be tough to beat. However, if the Eagles can stay in the game late they have proven they can find a way to win close games.

Game 3 – 4:00pm – El Dorado HS
IMG Academy v Loyola

IMG Academy returns to the National Classic for a second consecutive year but this time they come in with a roster loaded with college and pro prospects led by left handed pitcher Jason Groome  (Vanderbilt) who many consider a top 10 pick in the 2016 MLB Draft. Groome works in the 93-97 mph range with his fastball and come in with a 0.95 ERA and a perfect 5-0 record. The Ascenders won their own tournament last week in Florida by defeating South Hills in the championship. Senior Ryan Karstetter (Virginia) paces the offense with a .394 batting average.

Loyola of Los Angeles lost three Division I arms to graduation last year yet have proven to be a tricky team to beat in 2015 despite their 8-7 record. Holden Groff is the Cubs ace with a 4-1 record and 0.78 ERA. Henry Stellwagen provides a solid number two pitcher for Loyola. Infielder Matt McGeah (.370 average) leads an offense that comes in hitting just .272 on the season.

The cards are stacked against Loyola in this first round matchup as they’ll likely face Groome in the opener. Their only hope is to get Groome to reach his pitch limit early in the game and hope to get to the bullpen. The Ascenders are deep top-to-bottom offensively and on the mound and like Agoura have to be considered one of the favorites in this tournament.

Game 3 – 4:00pm – Cal State Fullerton
Monte Vista v El Dorado

Monte Vista enters the National Classic as one of the better hitting teams in the tournament with seven regular starters hitting over .350 led by senior Daniel Wilson and his .522 batting average. The pitching is another question where the Mustangs come in with a 3.11 team ERA. The competition faced by the Mustangs should be considered as well as their only quality win is against St. Mary’s of Stockton.

El Dorado is led by left handed pitcher Nick Sprengel (USD) who is off to a fabulous start for the Golden Hawks. The senior left-handed pitcher is a perfect 5-0 with a 0.91 ERA and is drawing rave reviews from scouts so far this spring. Head coach Matt Lucas has to be thrilled with what he’s getting out of seniors Brandon Mulrooney (1.80 ERA, 3 saves) and Skyler McMillan (4-1, 3 saves, 1.25 ERA). Sophomore Jesse Lopez is a star-in-the-making and leads the team with a .382 batting average.

The Golden Hawks have the pitching and the depth on offense to make a run at this tournament title. Assuming Sprengel and the rest of their staff along with the offense continue to perform the way they have thus far this season, it is easy to see the Golden Hawks making it to the second round in the winners bracket to face the winner of the Agoura-JW North game.

Game 3 – 4:00pm – Esperanza HS
Spanish Fork v Cypress

Spanish Fork returns to the National Classic a completely different team from 2014. The Dons enter with a 8.38 team ERA and a .308 team batting average. Obviously pitching is a major issue for the team from Utah and has led to their 4-7 overall record. The Dons are going to need to get better in a hurry as they’ll face off against one of Orange County’s top offenses in Cypress in their first game of the tournament.

Cypress comes in with a 6-7 overall record but you must consider their schedule when looking at their record. Having played some of the top competition in Orange County, the Centurions have held their own by scoring 70 runs in 13 games. Led by Dom Fletcher (Arkansas), Brandon Alamo (Fullerton) and Garret Brockel, the offense can hit against anyone. James Acuna (Oregon) is the teams ace.

On paper this looks like a cakewalk for Cypress, but we all know this game isn’t played there. The best hope for Spanish Fork is that Acuna is off his game and the Cypress defense lets them down. Don’t expect that to happen.

Game 4 – 7:00pm – Cal State Fullerton
Esperanza v Xaverian

Xaverian makes the cross-country trip from New York to participate in the National Classic. The Clippers have only played two games (three were postponed due to weather) having won both.

Esperanza limps into the National Classic losers of seven of-their-last eight with six of those coming by two runs or less. The Aztecs have some nice players to follow like shortstop Hayden Nix, catcher Eric Bigani and pitchers Blake Schreiver, Tristan Guzman, and Dominic Potlongo.

Without knowing too much about Xaverian this is the classic game where the team that makes the least mistakes and gets the clutch should win. Having seen Esperanza a few times already this season I can tell you that they are capable of causing some problems for any team they face in this tournament. If the Aztecs can limit their mistakes – they’ve committed 15 errors already this season – there is no reason they can’t make a run in this tournament.

--Les Lukach
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