Huntington Beach (Calif.) High—the top-ranked team in our High School Top 25—put an exclamation point on what has become a historic season, capturing the Boras Classic Championship with a 4-1 victory over Bellarmine Prep (San Jose, Calif.) on Saturday.
The California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) doesn't have a baseball state championship. Teams in California are lumped into geographic regions, which are further broken up into divisions based on population. The Boras Classic serves as a de facto state championship; 32 teams—16 from Northern California and 16 from Southern California—compete in a single elimination tournament.
Huntington Beach cruised through the southern portion of the Boras Classic, and sealed the victory on Saturday thanks largely to the dominant pitching performance of senior All-American Hagen Danner.
"A couple weeks ago Hagen and Nick Pratto approached me," head coach Benji Medure said. "We had the four Boras games and then a league game that Saturday. Hagen asked me when he was going to pitch and I said 'I want to save you for Saturday for league' and he just kind of had this look on his face."
"And so I asked him why and he said 'We really want to win the Boras Classic. We want to win the south. We want to move on and win the whole thing. Let me throw game two after Nick. I swear coach, we'll get it done.' And we did. And we ended up winning that league game, too. He kind of called this."
Danner walked two batters in the first inning, then retired 17 batters in a row. He took a no-hitter into the seventh inning. Danner, who has been one of the most decorated high school players in recent years, has taken a step forward over the past few months. In an interview after his start on April 19, Danner said that his confidence is way up and that he feels like he can pound the strike zone with all of his pitches.
"He wasn't really getting his breaking ball over for a strike early in the game," Medure said of Danner's performance on Saturday. "And he came into the dugout and talked to our pitching coach and made the adjustment and then he retired 17 in a row from there. It was mostly just getting ahead in the count with his fastball, getting feel for his breaking ball and actually he threw a couple changeups with really good arm speed that he kept down in the zone that he got a couple ground balls with. It was mostly just him getting ahead. And if Hagen gets ahead of you—if he's 0-1—he's really tough to hit."
Danner's fastball worked at 90-93 mph on Saturday, while his curve checked in at 77-79. He's developed above-average control and projects for average or better command of his three-pitch mix. Danner's curveball shows late and deep vertical break and he has the ability to spot it down and to either side of the plate for strikes.
Danner, also a significant pro prospect as a position player, worked a leadoff walk to start the fourth. A courtesy runner came on for him and eventually scored on a sacrifice fly from senior Trevor Windisch, who would drive in another run later in the game. Windisch, who is uncommitted, shows excellent hands and actions at shortstop, and has received interest from Pac-12 schools since his excellent performance during the southern portion of the Boras Classic.
Huntington Beach got its other two runs on a double from Nick Pratto, who jumped on a 2-1 pitch up in the zone to drive a ball deep to center field in the fifth inning. Pratto, too, is a Preseason All-American and a true two-way prospect. He's likely to be selected on the first day of the draft as a hitter, though he could develop into a Friday night starter if he were to fulfill his commitment to Southern California.
This Huntington Beach senior class has been through a lot together. It's the same group of players that won the Little League World Series when representing the Ocean View Little League back in 2011. It's the same group that won the National High School Invitational in 2016. The Boras Classic crown is the climax of a legacy that will live on as the Prattos and Danners hand the reigns over to youngsters such as sophomores Josh Hahn and Dylan Ramirez.
"We always talk about our legacy and leaving the jersey better than you found it. Hagen and Nick and that senior class really have done that," Medure said.
In 2009, current Reds prospect Beau Amaral set the tone for the program. Youngsters Brett Urabe and LJ Brewster took the reins and passed them along to players such as Daniel Amaral, Jake Brodt and Jesse Kuet. Pratto and Danner followed suit, and the Oilers have capitalized on an outstanding senior class in 2017.
"It just seems to be cyclical here," Medure said. "There are these great leaders who show these young guys the ropes and they just kind of pass it on and pass it on and leave the jersey better than they found it. And that's kind of the motto of our program and the kids take that to heart. I don't want to see Pratto and Danner go, believe me. I would love them and all these seniors stay forever, but it's time for the next round of kids to come through and be stars."
"Hopefully they can live up to the seniors we have—not necessarily with their play on the field, but how they carry themselves off the field and their leadership ability."