CARY, N.C.—Even with high expectations for the teams and the talent in this year’s National High School Invitational—considered the best in event history coming in—the tournament did not disappoint. Almost every game was tightly contested, and most of the top prospects performed in line with expectations. A multitude of underclassmen stepped up on the national scene.
All of this meant that some very gifted players didn’t make cut for the All-NHSI team, which aims to honor performance in the tournament rather than only considering prospect status.
Key prospects missing from the following list include Cullman (Ala.) lefthander Jacob Heatherly and South Hills (West Covina, Calif.) shortstop Jacob Amaya. Heatherly didn’t have his best performance but still showed promise promise with his fastball and breaking ball. Amaya’s statistics weren’t quite up to par, but he showed excellent infield actions and a loose, whippy swing.
C Caleb Ricketts, Jr., Orange (Calif.) Lutheran: Ricketts’s defense was a key part of Orange Lutheran’s four-game sweep of the NHSI. He started all four games and helped guide the Lancers’ pitching staff throughout the tournament. Lutheran allowed only 10 runs over the week. Ricketts went 4-for-12 at the plate and also drove in six runs, hitting to both fields as a productive cleanup hitter.
1B Zach Busalacchi, Sr., Orange (Calif.) Lutheran: In a field that included three preseason All-American first basemen, Busalacchi stood out with a physical presence in the batter’s box. He reached base in eight of his 13 plate appearances and had five hits—three singles and two doubles. In case his impact with the bat wasn’t enough, Busalacchi excelled on the mound as well. In the championship game, the Oregon State recruit tossed five scoreless innings and induced the game-ending double play.
MIF Tristan Hanoian, Sr., Orange (Calif.) Lutheran: Hanoian’s defense at shortstop really allowed him to shine; he showed a quick first step and game awareness well beyond his years. Hanoian made a game-winning play to secure the championship for Orange Lutheran, fielding a ground ball up the middle, quickly getting his foot on the second base bag, and firing a strike to first base for a double play. He also went 6-for-12 with two doubles, three walks and no strikeouts.
MIF Austin Martin, Sr., Trinity Christian, Jacksonville, Fla.: Martin, who also played at the 2016 NHSI with Trinity Christian, had himself a strong week at the plate and at shortstop. He went 4-for-9 with a double and three stolen bases. Martin had a .571 on-base percentage in the tournament. He showed smooth infield actions and prevented runs with his quick feet and excellent range in both directions.
3B Cory Acton, Jr., American Heritage, Plantation, Fla.: American Heritage’s biggest strength this season is its potent offense, and Acton plays a key role in that, providing protection in the lineup immediately behind senior Mark Vientos and fellow junior Triston Casas. Acton impacted the ball early and often at NHSI; he went 5-for-16 with a double, a triple and a home run. Acton also played quality defense at third base.
OF Pat DeMarco, Sr., Winder-Barrow (Ga.): Throughout the tournament, DeMarco stood out for his advanced all-around skillset and table-setting ability atop the Bulldoggs’ lineup. The Vanderbilt recruit went 4-for-12 and posted a .500 OBP. He manned center field flawlessly, getting good reads of the ball off the bat and taking direct reads to the ball. His plus speed helped him score six runs over the course of the week, and he helped lead Winder-Barrow to upset victories over Huntington Beach and American Heritage.
OF Owen Lovell, Sr., Cullman (Ala.): Many scouting clichés apply to Lovell, a high-waisted, broad-shouldered senior who looks the part as soon as he walks off the bus. Lovell performed well at NHSI, going 5-for-13 with two doubles. He has a longer swing, but when he’s on time, Lovell can impact the ball with authority. The Mississippi State recruit helped guide Cullman to key wins over Brother Rice and Huntington Beach.
OF Joe McLaughlin, So., Hamilton, Chandler, Ariz.: On a talented Hamilton squad that includes talented seniors in Nick Brueser, Drew Swift and Brayden Merritt, McLaughlin fit right in at NHSI. The sophomore went 6-for-13 at the event. Against American Heritage on the final day of the tournament, McLaughlin hit a two-out double to give Hamilton a 5-4 lead in the 11th inning.
P Mason Denaburg, Jr., Merritt Island (Fla.): Denaburg showed the most upside of any pitching prospect at the event. The 6-foot-3, 190-pounder filled the zone with a devastating three-pitch mix in a masterful performance against Arlington. Denaburg needed only 86 pitches to strike out 11 across six shutout innings. For good measure, the righthander also put on a show with his bat, stinging line drives as he went 6-for-12 and scored seven runs.
P Nick Pratto, Sr., Huntington Beach (Calif.): Pratto’s story, which started in Little League, added yet another anecdote at this year’s NHSI. In the opening game of the tournament, Pratto took the ball and refused to give it up for 9.1 innings. The lefthander struck out nine and walked zero against a strong Winder-Barrow team. He threw 72 of his 97 pitches for strikes, showcasing command of his upper 80s fastball, plus changeup and sharp breaking ball.
P A.J. Labas, Sr., Trinity Christian, Jacksonville, Fla.: With the first pitch of the tournament, Labas got a ground ball out. Opposing hitters had a tough time putting the bat on the ball after that; Labas struck out a tournament-leading 13 of the 27 batters he faced. The righthander walked none and allowed six hits and one unearned run. Labas, as he did at last year’s NHSI, showed feel for throwing three pitches for strikes.
P Christian Santana, Sr., American Heritage, Plantation, Fla.: While some high school pitchers can spin an effective breaking ball, few can generate top-to-bottom action and throw the pitch for strikes like Santana can. The wiry and projectable righthander tossed seven shutout innings to open the tournament for American Heritage. Santana struck out 11 batters, walked one and allowed only four hits. His fastball reached 92 mph and sat 88-91.
P Ryan Kutt, Sr., Brother Rice, Chicago: Kutt’s exceptional performance at NHSI could have warranted a spot on this team as a position player—he went 5-for-11. But it was his strong outing against South Hills that earned him recognition. Kutt used his upper 80s fastball and swing-and-miss breaking ball to throw seven strong innings. The Illinois commit struck out nine and walked one as he allowed two earned runs.
UTL Brandon Dieter, Jr., RHP/INF, South Hills, West Covina, Calif.: In a tournament loaded with promising two-way prospects, Dieter shined the brightest. The junior Stanford commit took the mound against Archbishop McCarthy—the No. 1 team in the nation at the time—and tossed a complete game, allowing one run on four hits and one walk. At one point, he retired 11 batters in a row. Dieter also went 7-for-14 in the tournament.
DH Joe Perez, Sr., Archbishop McCarthy, Southwest Ranches, Fla.: Perez is one of the most fascinating two-way prospects in the nation this year, but his placement on this team reflects his eye-opening power display. After an intriguing on-field batting practice in which he sprayed hard line drives to the opposite field, Perez showed his power in game action. He went 4-for-11 with two doubles and an opposite-field home run. Perez was the event leader in RBIs with seven.
|ALL NHSI TEAMS
|C||Caleb Ricketts||Orange (Calif.) Lutheran HS||2018||San Diego||L/R|
|1B||Zach Busalacchi||Orange (Calif.) Lutheran HS||2017||Oregon State||R/R|
|MIF||Tristan Hanoian||Orange (Calif.) Lutheran HS||2017||Texas Christian||L/R|
|MIF||Austin Martin||Trinity Christian HS, Jacksonville, Fla.||2017||Vanderbilt||R/R|
|3B||Cory Acton||American Heritage HS, Plantation, Fla.||2018||Florida||L/R|
|OF||Pat DeMarco||Winder-Barrow HS, Winder, Ga.||2017||Vanderbilt||R/R|
|OF||Owen Lovell||Cullman (Ala.) HS||2017||Mississippi State||R/R|
|OF||Joe McLaughlin||Hamilton HS, Chandler, Ariz.||2019||Oregon State||R/R|
|P||Mason Denaburg||Merritt Island (Fla.) HS||2018||Florida||R/R|
|P||Nick Pratto||Huntington Beach (Calif.) HS||2017||Southern California||L/L|
|P||AJ Labas||Trinity Christian HS, Jacksonville, Fla.||2017||North Florida||R/R|
|P||Christian Santana||American Heritage HS, Plantation, Fla.||2017||Florida International||R/R|
|P||Ryan Kutt||Brother Rice HS, Chicago||2017||Illinois||R/R|
|UTL||Brandon Dieter||South Hills HS, West Covina, Calif.||2018||Stanford||R/R|
|DH||Joe Perez||Archbishop McCarthy HS, SW Ranches, Fla.||2017||Miami||R/R|
|C||Beau Hanna||Winder-Barrow HS, Winder, Ga.||2017||Kennesaw State||R/R|
|1B||Alex Toral||Archbishop McCarthy HS, SW Ranches, Fla.||2017||Miami||L/L|
|MIF||Mark Vientos||American Heritage HS, Plantation, Fla.||2017||Miami||R/R|
|MIF||Brady McConnell||Merritt Island (Fla.) HS||2017||Florida||R/R|
|3B||Jacob Dominguez||South Hills HS, West Covina, Calif||2017||Cal State Fullerton||R/R|
|OF||Thomas Buckanavage||Dana Hills HS, Dana Point, Calif.||2020||Dana Hills||R/R|
|OF||Garrett Mitchell||Orange (Calif.) Lutheran HS||2017||UCLA||L/R|
|OF||Brayden Merritt||Hamilton HS, Chandler, Ariz.||2017||New Mexico||L/R|
|P||Karlos Morales||South Hills HS, West Covina, Calif.||2017||Long Beach State||L/L|
|P||Yordani Carmona||Archbishop McCarthy HS, SW Ranches, Fla.||2019||Miami||L/L|
|P||Daniel Buice||Winder-Barrow HS, Winder, Ga.||2017||Lawson State CC (Ala)||R/L|
|P||Darrell Woodall||Winder-Barrow HS, Winder, Ga.||2017||Uncommitted||R/R|
|P||Hans Crouse||Dana Hills HS, Dana Point, Calif.||2017||Southern California||L/R|
|UTL||Hagen Danner||Huntington Beach (Calif.) HS||2017||UCLA||R/R|
|DH||Triston Casas||American Heritage HS, Plantation, Fla.||2018||Miami||L/R|