CARY, N.C.—Playing on the same field they won the inaugural National High School Invitational, Mater Dei High from Santa Ana, Calif., defended its championship with authority, defeating Tullahoma (Tenn.) High, 11-4.
"It's pretty special coming here," Mater Dei head coach Burt Call said. "USA Baseball does a fantastic job hosting, and when we come here and pull up to the stadium, your heart pounds a little bit harder. We're excited because it's just a great tournament and we're happy to be back and have that opportunity."
With the win today, Mater Dei now has a 7-1 record and came into the tournament ranked as the No. 5 team in the country. With the high expectations, Call is trying to keep his players focused only on their next game.
The Monarchs showed off a potent offense in the first game. The team's 11 runs came on 13 hits, and they also benefitted from three Tullahoma errors. Most of the team's damage came without a lot of impact from the middle of Mater Dei's lineup. Catcher Jeremy Martinez went 2-for-4, but both hits were blooped in. Third baseman Ryan McMahon went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts and a walk.
Senior center fielder Austin Grebeck, who is committed to Oregon, went 3-for-4, DH Brett Mellon went 2-for-4 with 3 RBIs and second baseman Bryan Call went 3-for-3 with 2 RBIs.
Mater Dei scored all of its runs against junior lefthander Justus Sheffield—one of the top prospects for the 2014 draft class, who is already verbally committed to Vanderbilt.
"Justus, I think it got to him a little bit when the train started running off the tracks a little bit behind him, and that's understandable," Tullahoma head coach Brad White said. "I think he handled himself well, though. He kept battling. He gave us what he had. It's a different ballgame if we can make a couple plays behind him, probably."
Sheffield gave up 11 runs on 10 hits over 3 2/3 innings, but only one of the runs was earned. He walked three batters and struck out four. Sheffield pitched in the 87-89 mph range and topped out at 93 in the first inning. He mixed in a hard curveball and a changeup that showed improvement from the summer and fall.
The Monarchs also got a good outing out of righthander Davis Tominaga, a senior committed to Portland.
"Davis loves the big games and that opportunity to compete and be on the mound," Call said. "We always are very confident when he's on the mound that he's going to have his pitches working and doing a great job for us."
Tominaga, who pitched with an upper-80s fastball and a mid-70s curveball, gave up two runs on four hits. He struck out five and walked two, and with the big lead, Call was able to pull Davis after four innings, giving him the chance to use him again later in the week.
"That's our plan," Call said. "We got him out of there early and then hopefully we can have him for a couple innings on Saturday if everything works out."
Last year's Mater Dei team had a fiery swagger, led by outfielder Ty Moore, now a freshman at UCLA. This year's team has a different dynamic.
"It's tough to replace a Ty Moore, with his energy and emotion and the way he plays the game," Call said. "This team's a little more quiet. The have that quiet confidence, and that stems from Jeremy. He's a leader by example and emotion and the way he plays, and that's kind of carried over this year, and it's a little bit different team. Jeremy and Ryan McMahon are guys that are really calm and confident in their approach and we look to those two for a lot of our leadership this year."
Mater Dei will go up against Lexington (S.C.) in the quarterfinals on March 28, and will start lefthander Aaron Cross.
Tullahoma will face Florida Christian in the losers' bracket and White is trying to keep his players' chins up.
"I told them, let's stay positive," White said. "Obviously this is adversity we haven't faced before. Let's keep our heads up, let's keep our guys up in the dugout. Obviously nobody made those mistakes on purpose. We just want to keep things up. I reminded them that we can still go 3-1 in this tournament."