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Hard 9 National Classic looks better than ever

Apr 8, 2012 The National High School Invitational may have had Southern California powerhouses Mater Dei and Harvard-Westlake in the championship game, but the Hard 9 National Classic features Cypress (Calif.) and Alemany (Mission Hills, Calif.).

And why is that significant? For all of the hoopla and Major League Baseball coverage that the National High School Invitational received, and rightfully so, the Hard 9 National Classic may be just as tough a tournament. The reason can be found in teams from Cypress and Alemany, who have wins over Mater Dei and Harvard-Westlake, respectively.

Photo by Larry Gasinski

Alemany's Peter Van Gansen

When the lineup for the National High School Invitational first came out, it became apparent that the event figured to be the top high school baseball tournament in the country as many of the nation's top programs participated in the event.

However, once the games played out, the strength of the Southern California programs sparkled. As a result, the Hard Nine National Classic, which is loaded with Southern California teams, regained some of the prestige and luster it once held when it was generally considered the top baseball tournament in the country.

The presence of Cypress and Alemany certainly didn't hurt.

Cypress got its win over the Monarchs earlier this week. Mater Dei's first game back in California following the championship win over Harvard-Westlake was a 5-1 loss to Cypress. The Monarchs, however, managed a 4-3 win in the second game.

Alemany, meanwhile, has a win and a tie against Harvard-Westlake, both occurring just days after the Wolverines lost top recruit Lucas Giolito to injury.

"The 2012 Hard 9 National Classic will showcase some of the best baseball talent in the country," said Marcus Jones, tournament director. "Since 1990, the National Classic has been recognized across the United States as the No. 1 high school baseball tournament in the nation, and that continues with this year's field."

The presence of Alemany and Cypress, two teams with impressive wins on their resumes, makes the Hard 9 National Classic a big player in determining national rankings. A team coming out of the event with a championship trophy can expect to move up in the national spotlight.

That doesn't mean that Alemany and Cypress are shoo-ins for the championship game, however. Spanish Fork (Utah), which was ranked in the Top 10 of the Xcellent 25 as recently as last week, is also in the mix along with James River (Midlothian, Va.).

There is also defending tournament champion Bishop Amat, which lost star third baseman Rio Ruiz to a blood clot in his neck. Ruiz has been out of action since March 20 but he is expected to return this season, possibly some time during the National Classic.

All total, 14 of the 16 teams entered in the Hard 9 National Classic have winning records. Nine of those teams have three losses or less.

El Dorado coach and tournament co-host Dave Moore notes that the competition figures to be be fierce.

"All of the teams participating this year have high expectations for this season, and to achieve goals you have to face the caliber of talent assembled at this year's tournament. Baseball fans will not be disappointed with this year's field."

The semifinals are scheduled for Wednesday at 4:30 and 7 p.m. (Pacific time) at Cal State Fullerton. The third-place game is set for 5 p.m. and the championship game is at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday at the university.

Following is a look at Monday's first-round matchups with the time and location of each game.

Alemany (Mission Hills, Calif.) vs. Carlsbad (Calif.) - 10 a.m. at El Dorado
The Warriors entered the Xcellent 25 National Rankings this week due to their 1-0-1 record against Harvard-Westlake, a team that reached the finals of the National High School invitational. Alemany is 12-2-1 on the season and is led by returning All-Mission League players Peter Van Gansen and Corey Sims.

Carlbad is off to a 7-3 start behind the batting of Nick Anderson and Addison Domingo. Both have two home runs while Anderson has a .458 batting average and Domingo a .467 average. Anderson also leads the team in RBIs with 13. On the mound, Slater Lee is 3-0 with 20 strikeouts in 16.2 innings pitched.

El Toro (Lake Forest, Calif.) vs. James River (Midlothian, Va.) - 1 p.m. at Esperanza

The Chargers (16-2) have one of the top pitchers in the Southern Section in Tyler Brashears. He is off to a 4-1 start with a shutout, 36 strikeouts and a 0.62 ERA in 34 innings pitched. Brashears was a 2011 MaxPreps California All-State pick  after going 11-2. Nick Villar and Dan James lead the offense. Villar has a team-high four home runs while James leads the team in batting average (.433) and RBIs (19).

James River has opened the season 6-0 after going 24-6 last year and finishing ranked No. 5 in the state. The Rapids have one of the top left-handed pitchers in the country in Nathan Kirby.

Pacifica (Garden Grove, Calif.) vs. Bishop Amat (La Puente, Calif.) - 4 p.m. at Esperanza
Pacifica could be one of the favorites this week after winning the Anaheim Lions Tournament. The Mariners knocked off Riverton (Utah) 5-0, Rancho (Las Vegas) 10-1, Westchester (Los Angeles) 8-0 and Servite (Anaheim) 3-1 for the crown. Kyle Davis leads the team with 17 RBIs while Jono Herkins is batting .537. Pitcher Max Bethell already has six wins on the season (6-1) with 54 strikeouts.

Bishop Amat is the defending champion at the Hard 9 National Classic but the Lancers have been without standout infielder Rio Ruiz for part of the season. The senior had a blood clot removed from his neck and has missed the last six games. The Lancers are undefeated in those games, however, and are riding an eight-game win streak after starting the season 1-5. Adam Alcantara leads the offense, batting .368 with 14 RBIs and a home run. Kenny Ball leads the team in wins (4-0) while Daniel Zamora leads in strikeouts (35).

Esperanza (Anaheim, Calif.) vs. Sunrise Mountain (Peoria, Ariz.) - 4:30 p.m., Cal State Fullerton
The Aztecs advanced all the way to the CIF Southern Section Division I championship game before falling to JW North. Thus, Esperanza could be a threat to win the tournament title. Off to an 11-2 start, the Aztecs have won nine in a row. Brad Anderson has been a force on offense, racking up a .556 batting average with 10 RBIs, five doubles and a home run. Brandon Luper, meanwhile, is 4-0 with 28 strikeouts.

Sunrise Mountain has been one of the top Division II teams in the state of Arizona this year, sporting a 16-4 overall record. Draye Turner is hitting at a .412 clip with 21 RBIs, five doubles, three triples and four home runs. Seth Martinez and Brick Paskiewicz both sport 5-0 records with Paskiewicz fanning 34 batters and Martinez 41.

Spanish Fork (Utah) vs. Ocean View (Huntington Beach, Calif.) - 1 p.m. at El Dorado
Ranked as one of the Top 10 teams in the country last week, Spanish Fork slipped a little in the rankings after falling to Bingham, a team that played in last year's National Classic. Spanish Fork (10-1) brings one of the top pitching trios in the country in Kayden Porter, last year's MaxPreps Junior Player of the Year, Hayden Nielsen and Brady Corless. Nielsen is 3-0 with 28 strikeouts while Porter has a 1-0 record with 26 strikeouts. Corless, the less-celebrated of the three, leads the team with 34 strikeouts. Porter also leads the offense with a .500 average that includes six doubles and two home runs.

After going 18-11 last season, the Seahawks are off to a rough start this year at 6-8. Regardless, Timmy Robinson is having a spectacular season, batting .446 with 15 RBIs, six doubles and four home runs. In a game last week against Santa Ana, Robinson hit for the cycle in going 6-for-6 with two home runs and eight RBIs.

IMG Academies (Bradenton, Fla.) vs. Cypress (Calif.) - 4 p.m. at El Dorado
IMG Academies has spent a lot of time on the road this year, participating in the Sarasota Baseball Classic, the Big League Dugout National Invitational, the Central Florida Spring Break Slam and now the Hard 9 National Classic. Brett Hanewich leads the offense with a .386 batting average, 20 RBIs and two home runs. He also leads the pitching staff with a 4-0 record and 33 strikeouts. Manny Ramirez, son of the MLB great of the same name, is batting .339 with a home run.

Cypress (14-3), meanwhile, pulled off one of the best wins of any team entering the tournament as it defeated Mater Dei 5-1 on Tuesday. The Monarchs were coming off a first-place finish at the National High School Invitational. Kevin Lillocrop picked up his sixth win of the season in the victory over the Monarchs while David Fletcher was 3-for-4. Mater Dei did manage to win the second game of the doubleheader by a score of 4-3.

Chaminade (West Hills, Calif.) vs. Valley Vista (Surprise, Ariz.) - 10 a.m. at Esperanza
The Eagles may only be 9-6 this year, but they have a win over Alemany in Mission League play. Cole Rutherford, a returning all-league player, leads the way for Chaminade.

Valley Vista has the most wins of any team in the Classic, sporting a 19-3 record. The Monsoon return a pair of all-region players from last year in Matt Garringer and Caleb Wood.

El Dorado (Placentia, Calif.) vs. Galena (Reno, Nev.) - 7 p.m. Cal State Fullerton
The Golden Hawks sport two of the top players in the country in Kyle Twomey and shortstop Chris Rivera. Twomey is 4-0 on the mound with 21 strikeouts while counterpart PJ Conlon is 3-1 with 21 strikeouts. Rivera is batting only .237, but he leads the team with 11 RBIs and two home runs.

Galena is just 5-5 on the season but has a pair of returning all-league players in outfielder Jorge Medina and junior infielder Cole Fenner.