Orange Lutheran Halfway To Another NHSI Championship
CARY, N.C.—There’s a fine line between winning one of the most prestigious high school baseball tournaments in the country and spending the rest of your days in the consolation bracket. And for defending NHSI champion Orange (Calif.) Lutheran, that thin margin for error was on full display Thursday afternoon at USA Baseball’s National Training Complex.
Deadlocked at one with George Jenkins (Lakeland, Fla.) in Thursday’s quarterfinal matchup, Orange Lutheran showed its championship moxie—while also receiving a bit of good fortunate—to squeak by the the Eagles with a 2-1 win and advance to Friday’s NHSI semifinals.
After Orange Lutheran leftfielder Evan Adolphus led off the bottom of the seventh inning by pulling a double into the left-center field gap, pinch-hitter Carl Lawson stepped to the plate with instruction from head coach Eric Borba to lay down a sacrifice bunt.
One pitch later, Lawson laid down a near-flawless bunt down the first-base line, forcing George Jenkins righthander Jackson Ross into a tough throw to first base. The throw sailed on Ross, allowing Adolphus to round third and score the game-winning, walkoff run in a game that was otherwise mistake-free.
“That was just a great high school baseball game right there,” Borba said. “You had a pitcher’s duel going and you felt like the first team that folded or made a mistake was going to be a loser. And unfortunately there had to be a loser.”
The low-scoring affair was made possible by the strong performances by both starting pitchers—sophomore righthander Max Rajcic for Orange Lutheran and senior lefthander Brandt Sundean for George Jenkins.
Sundean, a Florida Gulf Coast commit, allowed just one run on three hits while striking out three before giving way to Ross prior to the seventh inning, while Rajcic threw a complete game. The 2020 UCLA commit struck out five and walked only one in seven innings, throwing 55 of his 95 pitches for strikes.
In a hotly-contested game that featured some good-hearted chatter from both dugouts, it was Rajcic, the 16-year-old sophomore, who was able to maintain his composure and seemingly make a big pitch—either with his fastball or breaking ball—every time there was a hint of pressure.
“He pitches with a lot of adrenaline and he was fired up today,” Borba said of his young righthander.
“Just the way he responded to it—I thought that every time he got behind in the count, got to three balls, he made a big pitch and won the at-bat. He just showed a lot of heart for a young kid pitching on a big stage.”
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The WPC featured teams made up of 2021, 2022 and 2023 graduates playing against each other in separate brackets.
After Rajcic breezed through the top of the seventh inning by inducing three consecutive groundouts, Adolphus was able to set the stage for the late-game drama with easily the hardest hit ball of the afternoon, one hopping the left-center field wall for a standup double.
“Leading off that inning I was just kind of thinking, ‘All right, it’s a big game, it’s tied, but I just have to get something started,’” Adolphus said. “Then, I got a fastball in, turned on it and just hit the ball in the gap. I just had to bust my tail and keep running until the ball got into the infield.”
Now just two wins away from winning back-to-back NHSI championships, Orange Lutheran will face off against Calvary Christian Academy (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) in Friday’s semifinals.