National Classic Pits East Vs. West

FULLERTON, Calif.–The rivalry of East Coast versus West plays out at
every level of baseball, but particularly at the amateur level.

When Miami defeated Stanford in the 2001 College World Series, the East
owned bragging rights. Cal State Fullerton reclaimed them in 2004, and
two years later in Omaha, Oregon State reaffirmed Western dominance
when it held off North Carolina.

Because high school baseball doesn’t offer a year-end tournament to
determine a true national champion on the field, tournaments such as
the National Classic are intriguing tests, with much more on the line
than the tournament title alone.

And the winner of this year’s tournament would be heard bragging all
the way back to its campus–off the coast of the Atlantic Ocean.

Tim Roberson’s leadoff home run in the bottom of the sixth inning gave
Palm Beach Central High (Wellington, Fla.) a 2-1 victory over Poly High
(Riverside, Calif.) in the championship game of the 18th annual event
at Goodwin Field on the campus of Cal State Fullerton.

Senior righthander Richie Erath retired 10 of the final 11 batters he
faced, scattering six hits and a walk over seven innings, to earn the
victory. He caught the toss from Roberson for the final out in the
bottom of the seventh, covering first base just in time to get Cory
Reynolds, who dove for the bag, to end the game and strand the
potential game-tying run at third base.

Palm Beach Central coach Scott Benedict beamed as he ran onto the field
to celebrate with his team. Though he had been here before–Benedict
also won the Classic as the head coach of Wellington High in 1998–this
year’s team will long have a special place in his memory.

Swan Song

Erath and Roberson are two of 13 seniors who will graduate among the
school’s charter class in June. Palm Beach Central just opened in 2003,
and thanks to an enrollment of more than 2,700 students, an athletic
department with a wealth of resources and the community’s well
organized recreational leagues, Benedict has been able to quickly
cultivate a state title contender.

Palm Beach Central was the No. 3 team in the preseason Baseball
America/National High School Baseball Coaches Association poll, but
forfeited its first three games when the Florida High School Activities
Association ruled that it used an ineligible player. The Broncos lost
just three times otherwise, departing California with an 18-6 record
and one game remaining before Florida’s competitive postseason began.

Palm Beach Central lost just twice in 2006, once in the National
Classic and later in the Florida district playoffs–to eventual 6-A
titlists Flanagan High of Pembroke Pines. Benedict is banking on this
year’s tournament experience to serve as a springboard into the
playoffs, where the Broncos will be the No. 3 seed in a district that
includes Palm Beach Gardens High and Jupiter High, teams that have also
been ranked nationally this season.

“That’s the greatest benefit of this tournament, aside from the
exposure for the players,” he said. “You hope it makes you better
overall. We saw some scary-good pitching out here and I’ve been
impressed with the competition. Now we go home and hopefully take care
of business (in the playoffs).”

Palm Beach Central defeated one of the hardest throwers from San
Diego–Valhalla High senior righthander Bobby Wilkins, a San Diego
State signee, in the first round, then got past Alabama signee Connor
Hoehn and St. John’s College High (Washington, D.C.) in the second
round before defeating one of the top underclassmen in the field,
junior righthander Jonathan Pettibone, and Esperanza High (Anaheim) in
the semifinals.

That was the type of pitching Benedict had at his disposal 10 years ago
when he rode a Wellington pitching staff that included Bobby Bradley,
Sean Burnett and Justin Pope–all of whom eventually were drafted in
the first round–to the ’98 National Classic title. The 2007 Broncos
aren’t likely to produce any high-round picks, but thanks to the timely
hitting of Roberson, pesky leadoff man Alex Bello, shortstop Mike
Alvarez and senior starters A.J. Regoli, Gary Gustavson and two-way
talent Mike Gibson, they could still be poised for a deep playoff run.

Classic Clashes

A school from Florida had won the National Classic just once (Miami’s
Gulliver Prep in 2000) since Wellington took the title in 1998, and
Palm Beach Central became the sixth Florida school to win the event in
18 years.

This year’s field was arguably the best the tournament has had to offer
this decade, as no fewer than six of the 16 teams in the field had been
ranked in the Top 50 at some point. No. 33 Poly and Palm Beach Central,
which moved up to No. 27, both had to endure tough roads to qualify for
the title game. Perhaps the single most entertaining game took place in
the second round, when Poly slipped past Flanagan 7-6.

Not only were both rosters loaded with talented players, but the
dynamic of East vs. West was again at play. Poly coach Aaron Moore held
his ace, senior righthander Kyle O’Campo, for the game, knowing
Flanagan’s reputation (it has won consecutive Florida 6-A titles), and
it took 131 O’Campo pitches for Poly to advance.

Poly sophomore shortstop Blair Moore drove in four runs with three
hits, and sophomore center fielder Jake Marisnick added a key double to
help the Bears establish a lead that O’Campo would make hold up. His
fastball was up to 93 mph, but Flanagan’s hitters–most notably junior
third baseman Rolando Gomez, who was 3-for-3 with two doubles and a
walk–had little trouble with it.

“Our guys are juiced to hit the fastball, we’re seeing 90-92 pretty
much every night we play back in Florida, and I think he did a nice job
of relying on his slider as we started to tee off on the fastball,”
Flanagan coach Ray Evans said. “We were a little awestruck early in the
game, but our hitters really got in a groove.”

Evans was less diplomatic in his appraisal of the barbs some of Poly’s
players exchanged with his, calling them “classless,” a testament to
the intensity of the match up between two high-caliber teams from
opposite sides of the country.

O.C. ETC.

• The Classic has gone through a handful of sponsors over the years,
but without the willingness of a local major leaguer to pick up the
title sponsorship three years ago, the event may have been
discontinued. Phil Nevin
graduated from El Dorado High in 1989 and went on to play for Cal State
Fullerton before spending 12 years in the big leagues. He has donated
money to El Dorado, where his mother Terry still teaches math, and has taken a personal interest in the tournament.

“I think this tournament has become one of the best high school
tournaments in the country,” Nevin said as he sat with friends and
family during the championship game. “We want it to be the best, and
for someone that was given a lot, it’s only appropriate to try to find
a way to give something back to those that made it possible for me to
play in great stadiums with great facilities.”

• While El Dorado and Esperanza High, the two local schools that serve
as hosts for the tournament, didn’t make it to the championship game,
both schools made strong showings and had individuals who raised their
stock in the process. El Dorado senior catcher Derek Hall hit
four home runs in as many games and finished the tournament 5-for-12
with nine RBIs. Hall, who is considering playing baseball at Arizona
State, was batting .481 (26-for-54) with seven homers and 27 RBIs
overall. Esperanza junior righthander Jonathan Pettibone
worked a scoreless seventh inning for a save in Esperanza’s first-round
win against Riverside High (Greer, S.C.), then scattered six hits and
three earned runs over seven innings in the third round versus Palm
Beach Central. His fastball was up to 91 mph, and his stuff and frame
are projectable.

Scott Silverstein, a 6-foot-5
junior lefty from St. John’s College High in Washington, D.C., stymied
Newbury Park (Calif.) High in his only appearance in the event.
Silverstein ran his fastball into the low 90s during his seven-inning
shutout. He struck out 15 of the 26 batters faced, allowed just two
hits and a pair of walks.

• Riverside High dropped a pair of close games, splitting its four
outings in the school’s second appearance in the past four years. The
tournament’s lone entry from Utah, Cottonwood High (Salt Lake City),
edged the Warriors in an entertaining consolation game in which
Riverside scored its only two runs on a beautifully executed squeeze
play–without an error–as the runner at second base scored without
hesitation.

• For Riverside senior outfielder Mark Santoro,
the Classic served as a homecoming. Santoro and his family moved from
Anaheim to South Carolina two years ago when his father was
transferred. Santoro played his former high school, Esperanza, in the
first round, collecting a pair of hits in a 6-3 loss. “When he found
out we were playing all his old buddies, it was pretty trippy,” said
Mark’s father Vito. “He’s been crawling out of his skin for three weeks waiting to play that game.”

Santoro, also a standout defensive back, has committed to play football
at Western Kentucky and could play baseball there as well.

NATIONAL CLASSIC TOP 10 PROSPECTS

Alex Rodriguez, Shawn Green, Brett Tomko, Brett Myers and J.J. Hardy
are just a few of the players to appear in the National Classic over
the years. Following is a list of this year’s top 10 prospects, as
judged by BA Associate Editor Alan Matthews, based predominately on pro
potential with some consideration to tournament performance.

Rank Player, Pos. Class School
1. Jake Marisnick, of So. Poly HS, Riverside, Calif.
2. Andrew Lambo, of Sr. Newbury Park (Calif.) HS
3. Kyle O’Campo, rhp Sr. Poly HS, Riverside, Calif.
4. Rolando Gomez, 3b Jr. Flanagan HS, Pembroke Pines, Fla.
5. L.J. Hoes, of Jr. St. John’s College HS, Washington, D.C.
6. Jonathan Pettibone, rhp Jr. Esperanza HS, Anaheim
7. Tanner Robles, lhp Sr. Cottonwood HS, Salt Lake City
8. Ryan O’Sullivan, rhp/ss Jr. Valhalla HS, El Cajon, Calif.
9. Scott Silverstein, lhp Jr. St. John’s College HS, Washington, D.C.
10. Connor Hoehn, rhp Sr. St. John’s College HS, Washington, D.C.

High School | #2007

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