CARY, N.C. -- Roberto Pena flirted with National High School Invitational history on Thursday as the right-hander carried a no-hit bid into the sixth inning, and Dante Girardi -- son of former Yankees manager Joe Girardi -- collected three hits to lead Calvary Christian (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.) to an 8-2 win over Sandra Day O'Connor from Phoenix at Coleman Field. The win earned Calvary Christian a spot in Friday's semifinals, where they'll face Orange Lutheran (Calif.) at 4 p.m. ET on MLB.com.
:: 2018 USA Baseball National High School Invitational ::
The offensive star for Calvary Christian on event's first day, Pena showcased his potential on the mound with a dominant performance in which he allowed just one hit over six scoreless innings. The senior hurler, commited to Florida, struck out five and walked four in the outing, throwing 54 of his 99 pitches for strikes.
"[Roberto] is a gutsy pitcher, he's a competitor," Calvary Christian head coach Allen Kunkel said about his starter. "We're proud of what he did today, because it's not easy to navigate the lineups here. I thought he did a great job -- obviously we would have been very excited if he'd been able to throw a no-hitter, but it wasn't something we were expecting."
Pena issued walks in the first and third innings, but he picked off both baserunners en route to facing the minimum through five innings. He continued to cruise to open the sixth, generating a pair of quick outs before O'Connor center fielder Amari Bartee ended his no-hit bid with a ground-ball single through the right side.
"I think I realized it in about the fourth inning," Pena said when asked about his no-hit bid. "I looked at the scoreboard every time I went out there and saw a bunch of zeros. I knew I had it and went after what I thought might be my last batter with a two-seam fastball that stayed flat, stayed middle, and he hit it."
A 6-foot-2, 198-pound righty, Pena was up to 91-92 mph with his four-seam fastball and sat consistently in the upper-80s with a two-seamer that featured late arm-side life. He generated 13 swinging strikes in the performance, the majority of which he induced with a mid- to upper-80s slider that he threw with good depth and late bite.
"I was trying to get ahead," said Pena, "and as soon as I did that I knew I had my go-to pitch, a slider, and they were swinging at it every time I threw it."
O'Connor starting pitcher Mitchell DeCovich kept Calvary Christian out of the hit column until the bottom of the third inning, when junior designated hitter Mykanthony Valdez belted an opposite-field leadoff triple off the wall in the right field and then scored Christian's first run on a wild pitch. Senior shortstop Raynel Delgado added to the lead with a two-run triple to right field and then scored Calvary's fourth run of the frame on a wild pitch.
The scoring continued for Calvary Christian in the following frame as it tacked on three more runs courtesy of two extra-base hits to extend to its lead. Left fielder Ryan Keenan drove home a run with his team's third triple of the game, while Girardi, a sophomore second baseman, added a two-out RBI double. Girardi tallied his team-best third hit of the contest in the sixth inning, a run-scoring single to right field, to finish with two RBIs.
"We work hard to establish a strong offensive approach," Kunkel said. "I thought we had some really good swings early even though things didn't fall us, but we got things going and came through with some big hits. At the end of the day, we trust our guys, and fortunately second time through the lineup we were able to make hard contact.
"We just wanted to come out and be very intentional in terms of working to our strength and let whatever happens happen, and we were fortunate to come through with the win."
John Curtis Christian 2, American Heritage 1
John Curtis Christian School (River Ridge, La.) might not be the most high-profile team at this year's NHSI, but through the first two rounds of the tournament, few teams have played better. That was evident on Thursday, as the upstart Patriots upset powerhouse American Heritage (Plantation, Fla.), 2-1, to secure an NHSI Final Four berth. They'll face Green Hope (Cary, N.C.) in Friday's first semifinal at noon, live on MLB.com.
The intensity between the two teams was palpable from the outset of the game and continued throughout, with both clubs showing lots of emotion on the field and in the dugout that ultimately boiled over into a benches-clearing incident after the game's final out.
"That's what high school baseball is about," John Curtis head coach Jeff Curtis said after the game. "That's what high-level competition is about. These kids just don't understand how to lose. Our school motto is 'Building Champions for Life,' and we feel like this is just a part of that process."
Heritage's offense struggled against Patriots starter Will Ripoll, who didn't allow a hit through the first three innings en route to completing 6 1/3 frames of one-run ball. A senior right-hander and Louisiana State commit, Ripoll scattered four hits, walked five, hit two batters and struck out three in the performance while throwing 50 of his 95 pitches for strikes.
"What this guy did today against possibly one of the best lineups in the country was just unreal," Curtis said about his starter. "Even though he didn't have his best stuff, he had that bulldog mentality and allowed us to have a chance to win, and that's all you can ask for."
Ripoll bumped 91-92 mph with his fastball early in the outing before settling in at 88-90 and holding that velocity for the duration of his outing. He paired his heater with a 77-80 mph breaking ball that helped him keep right-handed hitters in check even though the pitch lacked consistency at times.
"I understand the capability of [American Heritage] -- that they're kind of the top dogs here and we're the underdogs," Ripoll said. "I didn't try to do anything too much, and my stuff felt good."
Batting second for John Curtis in the contest, Ripoll also helped his own cause at the plate by tallying his team's first hit, a leadoff double in the top of the fourth inning, and then scoring the game's first run on Jay Curtis' sacrifice fly.
Though Heritage responded with its first run in the subsequent frame, courtesy of a Corey Acton sacrifice fly to tie the game, the Patriots came right back to reclaim the lead in the top of the sixth inning as senior shortstop Brandon Davis scored the go-ahead run when Heritage reliever Triston Casas balked with the bases loaded.
Chasing one run entering their final at-bat, Heritage shortstop Jordan Carrion opened the bottom of the seventh with a first-pitch single to the opposite field before advancing to second base on Alfie Soto's sacrifice bunt. Enrique Bradfield followed with an infield single, putting runners on the corners for Heritage with just one out.
The next batter, Acton, hit a slow chopper to third baseman Jay Curtis, the team's starting catcher who had just moved from behind the plate prior to the seventh. Curtis fielded the ball on the run and then executed a perfect pump-fake throw to first that deked Carrion and led to him being tagged out during a rundown between third and home.
The play didn't stop there either, as second baseman Jordin Labruzza, who made the tag at third, fired a strike to second base, which was being covered by center fielder Logan Stevens, who applied the tag to Bradfield and raised his glove to show the umpire. Fortunately for Stevens and the Patriots, Ripoll -- who had just moved to right field after being relieved on the mound -- noticed that the ball was lying on the ground, and he picked it up and tagged Bradfield to complete the wild game-ending double play.
"Just a really high-baseball IQ play by Jay Curtis -- just understanding the enormity of the situation," said Curtis about his third baseman's heads-up play.
Although Heritage struggled to offer much in the way of offense, it did receive a pair of impressive pitching performances from starter Devin Futrell and Casas.
Futrell, a freshman left-hander who is committed to Vanderbilt, asserted himself as a prospect to watch in the 2021 Draft class by working five-plus innings during which he allowed two runs (one earned) on four hits while striking out four. He operated with a 78-81 mph fastball in the outing and demonstrated advanced feel for a mid-60s curveball as well as a changeup in the low 70s that consistently befuddled John Curtis' offense.
Casas, MLB Pipeline's No. 39 overall Draft prospect for 2018, entered in relief of Futrell and struck out four of the six batters he faced after committing the balk. The big right-hander pounded the zone with a lively 92-93 mph fastball and also showed the ability to throw his curveball for a strike.
With a pair of wins under its belt, John Curtis will now attempt to further its impressive run through the NHSI field on Friday in the tournament semifinals. A win in that game, meanwhile, would secure for the Patriots a chance to play in the championship game on Saturday.
"Nothing is too big for these guys," said Curtis, "and there's something to be said for that."
Other quarterfinals games
Orange Lutheran 2, George Jenkins 1
The 2017 NHSI champion Lancers (Orange, Calif.) took a step closer to defending their title with a walk-off victory. Evan Adolphus, a Cal State Fullerton-committed junior, opened the bottom of the seventh with a ringing double that nearly left the park and then came around to score the winning run when George Jenkins' pitcher committed a throwing error after fielding a sacrifice bunt. Standout sophomore Chad Born had a strong game out of the leadoff spot for Lutheran, going 1-for-2 with a double, one run scored and a walk. UCLA commit Max Rajcic, also a sophomore, went the distance on the mound for the Lancers, with the 6-foot right-hander allowing one run on four hits with five strikeouts. Rajcic's fastball reached 93 mph in the outing and was still sitting in the low 90s as late as the sixth inning.
Green Hope 8, Mountain Ridge 3
Hometown team Green Hope (Cary, N.C.) won handily for a second straight day behind a stellar game from North Carolina commit Jordyn Adams, arguably the most athletic player at this year's NHSI. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound outfielder's near-elite speed was on fully display as he notched three hits, stole three bases and scored three runs out of the leadoff spot for the Falcons. Senior Connor Knapp also collected three hits in the victory, while junior shortstop Kohl Adams, a Wilmington commit, plated a pair with a double.
Mount Carmel 16, Florence 0
Mount Carmel (Chicago, Ill.) scored multiple runs in three of five innings and had five players finish with multiple hits in its run-rule win. No. 49 overall Draft prospect Alek Thomas, a Texas Christian commit, went 2-for-3 with two RBIs, three runs scored and a stolen base to pace the Caravan, while junior Kevin Dowling and sophomore Josh Houston recorded at least one hit and two RBIs each. Starting pitcher and Eastern Kentucky commit Christian Lucio went the distance as he held Florence to just three singles while throwing 40 of his 68 pitches for strikes. The senior helped his cause at the plate, too, as he tripled and drove in three runs in a 2-for-3 performance.
Santiago 3, Hanover 0
Senior catcher Jacob Shank, who is committed to California Riverside, plated No. 7 overall Draft prospect and LSU commit Brice Turang with a first-inning single to give Santiago (Corona, Calif.) an early lead. That run support would be all that starting pitcher Tyler Frazier would need, as the Oregon-bound right-hander allowed four hits while posting eight strikeouts against three walks over six innings. Junior righty Jarrett Korson worked a scoreless ninth to earn the save and complete Santiago's combined shutout.
Hattiesburg 7, Mater Dei 6
Outfielder Joe Gray Jr., MLB Pipeline's No. 40 Draft prospect, showed his impact potential in all facets of the game in Hattiesburg's (Miss.) walk-off win. The Ole Miss commit enjoyed a perfect day at the plate, going 2-for-2 with a double and three walks. He also scored three runs, including the game-winning run in the bottom of the seventh, and notched the win on the mound behind 1 1/3 scoreless innings of relief during which he recorded three of his four outs via the strikeout.
Walton 11, Trinity Prep 7
Walton's (Marietta, Ga.) offense tallied 18 hits in the victory as all but two of its starters collected multiple hits. Junior shortstop Pierce Gallo, a Clemson commit, led the way with a 4-for-4 performance that included a double, a walk, two stolen bases and two runs scored. Fellow junior Luke Boynton, a 6-foot-6 first baseman, also had a big game, going 2-for-5 with a triple, three RBIs and two runs scored. Trinity also had its share of offensive standouts, most notably senior shortstop Ethan Groff, who drove in five of his team's seven runs thanks to a pair of doubles.
Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.