On Saturday afternoon, Pleasant Grove High (Elk Grove, Calif.) and Mater Dei High (Santa Ana, Calif.) will go head-to-head at Pacific’s Klein Family Field in the Boras Baseball Classic championship game. It’s an intriguing matchup, pitting Northern California and Southern California against each other with SoCal being represented by a traditional power and the current No. 1 team in the country--Mater Dei. Pleasant Grove is more of surprise, upsetting offensive powerhouse Elk Grove (Calif.) High in the championship game of the northern bracket. But Eagles are riding an eight-game win streak and won’t be star struck by facing Mater Dei.
“The thing we’ve done consistently well over the years and this year again is pitch and play defense,” head coach Robert Rinaldi said. “We’re not a real offensive team and we don’t have big kids. We just pitch and play defense and try to find ways to score runs. We play a lot of close games as a result.
“We’ve been in a lot of tight games and we’ve played the best teams we could find year in and year out.”
Rinaldi isn’t underselling his offense. Pleasant Grove is hitting .267 as a team and its best prospect, outfielder Josh Adams, currently has a .235 average in 34 at-bats. The Eagles have a team ERA of 1.79 though and Rinaldi was able to limit his ace righthander Dalton Gomez to four innings early in the week so he could be available against Mater Dei. Adams did get the big hit to break the game open against Elk Grove and has contributed on the mound as well.
“He hasn’t had a great year statistically so far, but he’s a presence in our lineup and if we need him to pitch, he comes in and does a great job,” Rinaldi said. “He’s a really good center fielder. As good of a player as he is, I’m sure a hot streak is right around the corner.”
Mater Dei is currently on a 16-game winning streak after opening the season with a loss in a doubleheader, but the Monarchs have been rolling since. They claimed a second straight title at the USA Baseball National High School Invitational and returned to SoCal to win the southern bracket of the Boras Classic.
“The kids are feeding off the momentum from the (NHSI) and I think they’re playing extremely well right now,” head coach Burt Call said.
The Monarchs have gotten big performances from their pitching staff and some arms lower on the depth chart have stepped up and proven themselves as reliable weapons. Lefthander Jacob Erickson has two championship starts and wins after the NHSI and Boras Classic. He is available for Saturday, as is righthander Charlie Vorsheck. Mater Dei has a staff ERA hovering around 1.20, but also has a dangerous lineup. Third baseman Ryan McMahon is leading the team with a .431 average and 20 RBIs.
“He’s been huge for us,” Call said. “It seems like he comes up with a key at-bat or a clutch hit when we need to break the game open. The other guys in the lineup see his approach and follow his example throughout the game.”
Both teams will return to league play after Saturday’s game with the postseason beginning the second week of May.
The Boras Baseball Classic is new and slightly different event that was added to the high school schedule this year. California does not have a state championship for baseball. The state is divided up into 10 sections that have their own championship for several different levels of classification, from Division I down. The Boras Classic is an invitational tournament played in the middle of the season, but with the quality of teams it aims for, the event could be viewed as a pseudo-state championship.
“We’re trying to get the best quality teams and try to create kind of a state tournament, which would be good,” Call said. “We’re probably the only sport in California that doesn’t have a state playoff system. Hopefully that spurs some of the administrators to change our playoff format from single elimination to double elimination and then have opportunities for a state playoff too.”
The event is sponsored by the Boras Family Foundation, a group affiliated with baseball super agent Scott Boras and run by his brother, Gerry. The Boras Foundation set up boards of high school coaches in NorCal and SoCal to find and invite teams to play. Gerry Boras, Call and Brett Kay, the head coach of JSerra High (San Juan Capistrano, Calif.), are the main administrators for the event, which was started to provide players with an opportunity to play top competition in their state and gain exposure in front of college recruiters and professional scouts.
“The design of it was, we wanted to set up a platform--youth baseball has become largely a travel ball and for-profit system,” Scott Boras said. “These entities that are charging players for showcases and charging players for exposure . . . They’re inviting college coaches and marketing the fact that if you go to these showcases, and you pay this fee, that you’ll be seen. We wanted to open this up to where this was an opportunity for youth athletes to be seen by top level college recruiters and by the pro scouts.”
That’s where one of the most unique aspects of the event comes into play. High school teams travel every year to different events across the country and typically pay some kind of tournament or participant fee. With the Boras Classic, the schools are paid $1,000, a donation to their baseball program.
“Instead of them paying to go to a tournament, we pay them $1,000 and donate that to the high school program so it can be a funding mechanism for the high schools,” Boras said.
“Baseball has been my life and it’s given me everything and the goal here is to return to youth baseball something that is going to be very valuable.”
Boras added that many players that can’t afford to attend showcases will be seen and they’ve heard from several college coaches saying they saw players they wouldn’t have seen otherwise. As the planning for next year’s event gets rolling, Kay and others would like to see the event continue to grow and potentially see the same model move to other states.
“You always want it to grow and evolve,” Kay said. “We want to get to where the south is 16 great teams. We want to make sure we have the 16 best teams and we want to do that in the north as well.”