CARY, N.C. -- There will be both familiar faces and local flavor in this year's National High School Invitational championship game when Orange Lutheran (Orange, Calif.) and Green Hope (Cary, N.C.) square off Saturday at 12:15 p.m. ET at Coleman Field in a game that can be seen live on MLB.com.
Lutheran, the reigning NHSI champions, shut out Florence in the tournament's opening round, thanks to a dominant performance on the mound by MLB Pipeline's No. 42 overall Draft prospect Cole Winn. The Lancers followed with a one-run victory against George Jenkins in the quarterfinals and another in the semifinals on Friday, when senior shortstop Zachary Lew drove home the game-winning run in the top of the seventh inning. With a win on Saturday, Orange Lutheran will become just the second team to repeat as NHSI champions since Mater Dei did so in 2012-13.
:: 2018 USA Baseball National High School Invitational ::
The first North Carolina program to reach an NHSI title game, Green Hope has excelled in all facets of the game. Left-hander Liam Norris pitched the Falcons past Walton in the first round, while ultra-athletic outfielder and two-sport star Jordyn Adams wreaked havoc on the basepaths against Mountain Ridge in Green Hope's quarterfinals victory. On Friday, it was Norris' bat that propelled the Falcons into the title game, as the sophomore standout delivered a walk-off single in the bottom of the 11th inning.
Green Hope 1, John Curtis Christian 0
Green Hope High, a local Cary-based program, walked it off in dramatic fashion on Friday, as Norris delivered an 11th-inning single to edge John Curtis Christian (River Ridge, La.), 1-0, in an NHSI semifinal contest that featured excellent pitching and defense from both teams in a championship atmosphere.
"I'm proud of our guys -- that was a battle," Green Hope head coach Mike Miragliuolo said. "It was a fun game, like a heavyweight fight with both teams throwing punches. What a battle. The whole team really stepped up."
After a few scoreless frames to begin the contest, Green Hope right-hander Joey Hegeman replaced Angel Collazo on the mound and quickly fell behind the first batter he faced with a 3-0 count. The senior settled in, though, rattling off three straight strikes including a full-count breaking ball for a called third strike to escape the jam.
"That was huge -- it wasn't looking good for us, but then he got that big strikeout and it took the pressure off," said Miragliuolo.
"After that first strike I just thought, 'I got this, there's no one else better who could be out here right now,'' said Hegeman, reflecting on his clutch strikeout. "I just wanted to throw strikes and get my team out of that situation. [My curveball] was working for me. Those balls have great grip on them, nice laces, and I knew I'd throw a strike."
Video: Joey Hegeman induces frame-ending double play
The strikeout launched what would be a dominant relief outing by Hegeman, not to mention his second win in as many days out of the bullpen. Throwing just 77 pitches (52 strikes) over 7 1/3 innings, Hegeman allowed just four hits while striking out three and issuing one walk.
"In a tournament like this, we're asking guys to do things they might not do on a normal basis, and [Joey] stepped up," Miragliuolo said.
Video: Breaking down two-sport star Jordyn Adams at NHSI
Senior Logan Stevens was effective in relief for John Curtis as he kept Green Hope off the board until the bottom of the 11th inning, when senior Connor Knapp ripped a leadoff single back up the middle and then advanced to second base on catcher PJ Heintz's sacrifice bunt.
It set the stage for Norris, who, after striking out in three of his first four trips to the plate, delivered a line-drive single to center field to plate Knapp and secure a championship berth for the Falcons.
"I decided I needed to just try to put something in play and hit it back up the middle, and that's what ended up happening," said Norris.
Orange Lutheran 3, Calvary Christian 2
Last year's National High School Invitational champions took the next step toward defending their crown on Friday evening as Orange Lutheran (Orange, Calif.) pushed across a run in the top of the seventh inning on Lew's one-out single to best Calvary Christian, 3-2, and clinch a berth in Saturday's title game.
"A lot of people were talking all day about two great programs going head to head, and I think you got exactly that. It's one of the reasons we come back here -- we want to measure ourselves against the best," Orange Lutheran head coach Eric Borba said.
Video: NSHI: Orange Lutheran beats Calvary Christian, 3-2
After edging George Jenkins (Lakeland, Fla.), 2-1, in quarterfinals play, the Lancers jumped out to an early lead in their semifinal matchup against Calvary Christian (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.), scoring two runs on three hits in the top of the second inning.
Sophomore catcher Brandon Heidal started the scoring for the Lancers with an RBI single to center field that plated first baseman Winn, who had opened the frame with a leadoff single. A passed ball by Calvary Christian starter Skylar Gonzalez allowed runners to advance to second and third, while his subsequent misplay of Chad Born's bunt netted Orange Lutheran its second run of the frame.
Video: NSHI: Heidal, Born plate two runs for Orange Lutheran
Lancers starting pitcher Christian Rodriguez, a sophomore right-hander committed to Miami, retired the first nine batters he faced, but ran into trouble the second time through Calvary Christian's order.
Junior catcher and leadoff hitter Ben Rozenblum, a Florida International commit, put the Eagles on the board with a solo home run to left field -- the first home run hit at this year's event -- that traveled 354 feet with an exit velocity of 98.9 mph. Rodriguez bounced back to record his first out of the frame, but issued a pair of one-out walks ahead of center fielder Daley Weppner, who made the Orange Lutheran hurler pay for his mistakes by lacing an RBI single to center field.
Video: NSHI: Ben Rozenblum belts solo homer in the 4th
That fourth-inning jam proved to be the extent of Rodriguez's struggles, however. Altogether, the 6-foot-6 right-hander allowed just two hits over 5 2/3 innings while posting three strikeouts against two walks and showing good downhill plane on a fastball that reached 90 mph in the outing.
"Christian Rodriguez was spectacular on the mound," said Borba about his starter's performance. "He gave up the homer and I think the emotions were going for him, and he lost command for a few hitters there, but he showed a tremendous amount of maturity and heart by bouncing back and shutting down a great offensive team for the next couple innings."
The two teams remained tied until the game's final inning, when Born led off the top of the seventh inning with a double down the left-field line and came around to score two batters later when Lew ripped a one-out single back up the middle.
Lew and Born were both standouts in Orange Lutheran's victory, as the latter paced the Lancers' offense with a 2-for-3 performance that included a walk out of the leadoff spot, and Lew excelling defensively at shortstop before coming through with the game-winning hit.
"Zach is just tremendous," continued Borba. "He's only been playing for about two weeks after an injury put him out for about six months, and he's just made play after play for us. He's the guy we want the ball hit to, and our dugout and team gets so fired up when he's making plays behind them. That's two days in a row that he's made highlight, SportsCenter Top 10 kind of plays."
Mountain Ridge 3, American Heritage 2
Mountain Ridge (Glendale, Ariz.) scored all its runs in the first three innings and never looked back en route to its second win at the NHSI. Senior shortstop Jason Harayda, a Seattle commit, drove in the Mountain Lions' first run and later added a double to finish 2-for-2 with a walk and a run scored. On the mound, senior right-hander Mitchael Dyer worked the first five innings, allowing two runs (one earned) on four hits before turning the ball over to relievers Gray Bailey and Brock Peery, who together retired six of the final seven batters to lock down the win.
George Jenkins 4, Sandra Day O'Connor 3
Senior Brandt Sundean came through with an RBI double in the fifth inning to help George Jenkins (Lakeland, Fla.) secure its second NHSI win. The Florida Gulf Coast commit was the lone Eagles hitter to record multiple hits in the contest, which he finished 2-for-3 with two RBIs. Senior righty Nick Hain was credited with the win after tossing 3 1/3 scoreless innings out of the bullpen. For O'Connor, No. 4 Draft prospect Nolan Gorman reached base three times in a 2-for-3 performance that included a line-drive double to right field.
Hanover 1, Florence 0
A trio of Hanover (Mechanicsville, Va.) pitchers combined to throw a two-hit shutout, with senior right-hander Will Lopez working the first five innings to pick up the win, and Virginia Tech commit Camden Grimes tossing the final 1 2/3 frames with two strikeouts for the save. Grimes also notched a pair of hits at the plate, as did catcher Michael Warley, who drove in the Hawks' lone run in the fourth inning before finishing 2-for-3 with a stolen base.
Santiago 8, Mount Carmel 4
After a slow start in the NHSI, MLB Pipeline No. 7 overall Draft prospect Brice Turang enjoyed a monster game at the plate for Santiago (Corona, Calif.), going 3-for-3 with a triple, a double and two walks. The Louisiana State-committed shortstop also drove in a run, scored twice and stole a base in the contest. Sawyer Stidham also tallied a double and a triple in the victory, while Daryl Ruiz plated a pair of runs in a 2-for-4 showing.
Walton 5, Hattiesburg 3
Cam Bloodworth's all-around ability was on full display in Walton's (Marietta, Ga.) win on Friday. A senior right-hander who's committed to Wofford, Bloodworth struck out 13 of the 27 batters he faced -- and threw 62 of his 93 pitches for strikes -- as he allowed three runs (one earned) on six hits in six innings. At the plate, Bloodworth helped his own cause by driving in three of his team's five runs in a 2-for-3 performance. Hattiesburg (Hattiesburg, Miss.) outfielder AJ Stinson, a rising sophomore, continued to show well with a 2-for-3, two-RBI performance in the loss.
Trinity Prep 7, Mater Dei 5
Trinity (Winter Park, Fla.) rallied to score four runs in the bottom of the sixth inning in its come-from-behind victory over powerhouse Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.). It did so despite recording just one hit in the frame, as it scored two runs on walks, one on a hit-by-pitch and another on an infield error. Third baseman and Florida commit Andrew Roberts went 2-for-4 with four RBIs to pace the Saints' offense, and senior shortstop Ethan Groff, who is committed to Tulane, continued his hot hitting with a pair of hits and an RBI.
Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.