National Classic Pits East Vs. West

Florida's Palm Beach Central defeats SoCal's Poly in national tournament




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.

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.
Rk.Player, Pos.ClassSchool
1.Jake Marisnick, of, So. Poly HS, Riverside, Calif.
2. Andrew Lambo, ofSr. Newbury Park (Calif.) HS
3. Kyle O'Campo, rhpSr. Poly HS, Riverside, Calif.
4. Rolando Gomez, 3bJr. Flanagan HS, Pembroke Pines, Fla.
5. L.J. Hoes, ofJr. St. John's College HS, Washington, D.C.
6.Jonathan Pettibone, rhpJr.Esperanza HS, Anaheim
7.Tanner Robles, lhpSr. Cottonwood HS, Salt Lake City
8.Ryan O'Sullivan, rhp/ssJr. Valhalla HS, El Cajon, Calif.
9.Scott Silverstein, lhpJr. St. John's College HS, Washington, D.C.
10.Connor Hoehn, rhpSr.St. John's College HS, Washington, D.C.
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.