2024 NHSI tourney kicks off with a no-hitter

April 11th, 2024

CARY, N.C. -- Left-hander Mason Russell clearly likes the big stage.

The Casteel High School (Queen Creek, Ariz.) southpaw tossed the second no-hitter in National High School Invitational history as the 11th annual tournament got underway Wednesday, beating Wesleyan Christian Academy (High Point, N.C.), 10-0, in six innings to advance to the second round. But it wasn't the first time Russell put up zeros like that in a huge setting.

“I had one in the state semifinals last year,” said Russell, who is committed to attend the University of Arizona next year. "That was pretty surreal. Both mean a lot. To be able to do it here, I’m super blessed to get this opportunity. It kind of hasn’t hit me yet. I’m sure it will hit me in the hotel.”

If and when it does, that will be the first time he came close to getting hit all day. Mixing in three pitches very effectively, Wesleyan never really threatened, managing just two baserunners on a pair of walks. Russell struck out 10, an impressive number considering he was focused on going after hitters and filling up the zone. His fastball command improved as his game went on, throwing his 91-93 mph heater to both sides of the plate very effectively while showcasing a very solid 77-80 mph curve and a distinct, shorter slider in the 84-86 mph range.

“That was my goal, to get outs and try to let them hit it,” Russell said. “I wasn’t trying to strike anybody out, was just trying to be myself out there.”

While Russell has a changeup, he didn’t need it, using the heater and the two breaking pitches to keep opposing hitters uncomfortable from start to finish. He entered high school with just the curve, but the harder breaking ball has come a long way since adding it just a couple of years ago.

“My slider came in early sophomore year, I started throwing it a little bit,” Russell said. “It kind of developed over junior year. Senior year, I started throwing it more during catch play.”

The curve might be the go-to pitch, but he certainly didn’t hesitate when he got to two strikes on the final batter, finishing the game off by freezing Sawyer Black with what is presumably his third best pitch.

“I knew [what I wanted to throw] -- slider for sure,” Russell said. “This kid hasn’t hit my slider all day. I’m getting it in [on] his hands and it just worked out.”

The only previous no-hitter in tourney history was thrown by Luke Pappas for Mount Carmel High School (Chicago) in 2018.

Mabeus comes ‘home’ to Cary
Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) catcher Burke Mabeus is no stranger to playing at USA Baseball’s National Training Complex. He was a member of the 18U team last year and was here a year ago with his high school for the 2023 NHSI tourney. The Gaels made it to the semifinals, and the Oregon recruit was thrilled to come through in their first game this go-around with a 10-3 win over Chaparral (Scottsdale, Ariz.)

“I think it means everything,” said Mabeus, who went 4-for-4 with a home run, a pair of doubles and five RBIs. “Last year, we fell one game short and that hurt us. We had a great season otherwise, but I know we were real excited to come back and prove ourselves again. Getting it rolling it early in the game gave us a better chance to secure the 'W' and I’m happy because of it.”

Scouts gathered around to watch Mabeus’ first at-bat and he promptly beat out a dribbler down the first-base line for his first hit. He settled in after that, barreling up for extra bases in his next three at-bats.

“It took a big mental adjustment,” he said. “First at-bat, that’s not what I’m looking for. I know I’m better than that. I took a deep breath, tried to flush it and play my game the next at-bat. I was just trying to see the ball deep. Sometimes I can get a little antsy and try to jump on pitches. Seeing it all the way through and putting a good swing helped me a lot today.

"I’d say I’m a little bit more comfortable here after playing here over the summer. Nonetheless, this is the USA Complex. These fields are amazing, I’m grateful to play on it. Every day, even though I’ve played a couple of times here, I’m excited to come out and play on these fields. It’s a great opportunity."

Other standouts
The best player here this week is Harvard-Westlake shortstop Bryce Rainer, who came into the NHSI as perhaps the high school hitter with the most helium in the country. Bigger, stronger and faster, the left-handed hitter did not disappoint on Wednesday. MLB Pipeline's No. 39 Draft prospect went 3-for-4 with three runs scored from the leadoff spot, hitting a pair of opposite-field doubles and a laser single up the middle. He’s played his way into the top half of first-round conversations with scouts buzzing he could easily land in the top 10.

Rainier's teammate Duncan Marsten started on the mound and went six solid innings, allowing two runs on four hits while striking out five. Putting Tommy John surgery in his rearview mirror, he came out of the spring hot with fastballs up to the upper 90s in his first start. His velo dipped in future starts, but he was up to 94 mph on Wednesday and flashed a solid hard slider as well.