— JJ Cooper (@jjcoop36) March 24, 2016
CARY, N.C.—Mater Dei center fielder Josh Stephen and his teammates won’t leave North Carolina with the NHSI trophy. But they will leave with some valuable experience from four tough games. And in Stephen’s case, he’ll leave as a more-watched prospect than the one who arrived on Wednesday.
Playing in front of numerous scouting directors and crosscheckers, Stephen added three more hits and drove in a run in Mater Dei High’s 3-2 win over Lynchburg, Va.’s Liberty Christian.
It would be hard for a scout not be impressed by Stephen’s heady approach and pure swing. It’s paid off in bushels of hits. In his first two games of the NHSI tournament, Stephen, a Southern California signee, is 7-for-8 with three doubles and a home run. After a 4-for-4 day in a loss to Orlando’s The First Academy on Wednesday, Stephen lined an RBI single to center field in his first at-bat on Thursday as Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) jumped out to a 2-0 lead.
Two innings later, he singled again. His best at-bat was his third of the game. After falling behind 0-2, Stephen went with a fastball on the outer half, driving it to left center field. Sprinting out of the box on an apparent single, Stephen never slowed as he rounded first and reached second on a hustle double.
“Josh is one of the purest hitters I’ve coached. He’s very dialed in. He knows his approach. He know what the pitchers are trying to do and he just executes it. He doesn’t give at-bats away even when there are two strikes he finds a way to get back into it and come up with a base hit,” Mater Dei coach Burt Call said.
The Bulldogs did finally retire Stephen in his fourth at-bat as he struck out with two outs and the bases loaded. That gave Liberty one last chance at a comeback, but Luke Williams stranded two baserunners in the seventh to finish off his complete-game three-hitter.
“I think he pitched outstanding. Early on he established the fastball and then later on he was able to add the changeup and his curveball. He kept them off balance,” Call said.