SEC-bound hurlers both flash huge upside at showcase event
By Tom Shanahan
CARY, N.C. -- Liberty Christian Academy's Zack Hess breezed along with a no-hitter through seven innings and Florence High's Braxton Garrett matched zeros in the run column with a four-hit shutout that included 11 strikeouts in eight innings on the opening day of the 16-team, four-day National High School Invitational at the USA Baseball National Training Complex.
Something had to give in extra innings between dueling pitchers committed to Southeastern Conference schools. The LSU-bound Hess threw only 84 pitches through seven innings and the Vanderbilt-bound Garrett fired 92.
Florence, the visitors from Alabama, pushed across two runs in the eighth for a 2-0 victory Wednesday over Hess and the Liberty Christian side from Lynchburg, Va.
Garrett, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound left-hander considered a possible first-round pick in the upcoming MLB Draft, emerged with the win and maintained his poise despite Hess threatening to steal his thunder with a no-hitter. Garrett is ranked No. 41 on MLBPipeline.com's Top 50 Draft prospects list.
"If anything it was a motivation," Garrett said. "He was shutting our team down. I wanted to do the same."
Three of Liberty's four hits were in the second, third and fifth innings when Garrett said he was still looking for his out pitch, a curveball. He found it at the right time -- one batter after Richard Delacruz led off the fifth with a triple over the Florence center fielder's head. Garrett stranded Delacruz with two strikeouts and a bouncer to the mound.
"Usually my curveball is my pitch, but my curve ball wasn't there at the beginning," Garrett said. "I was I relying on my changeup, and I was really happy with it. My fastball I commanded well, so I was working a lot of fastballs and changeups. After that triple, I found my breaking ball and it was there the rest of the game."
Garrett only gave up one hit over the final nine outs.
Florence's runs resulted from some defensive indecision and two pitches in the dirt. Andrew Mitchell led off the eighth with a line-drive single to right field to end Hess's no-hit bid. Travis Simpson followed with a bunt that trickled down the first-base line. When first baseman Austin Roach gave up waiting for it to roll foul, it was too late for a play at first. Seth Arnett followed with a sacrifice bunt. With No. 9 hitter Braxton Knight batting, a wild pitch scored Mitchell and advanced Simpson to third. Knight struck out on another pitch in the dirt, but when catcher Wesley Clarke threw to first complete the K, Simpson broke for home and scored.
"I was just trying to hold them and continue to do what I'd done all day," said Hess, whose draft stock is rising now that he's up to 95 mph. "I wasn't as consistent with my pitches at the end."
The pitchers commanded the attention of more than a dozen scouts pointing radar guns from behind home plate, but Clarke showed off his arm, too. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound sophomore catcher threw out two runners at second base.
In the top of the fourth, designated hitter Landon Langston led off with a walk and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Nate Reed. But Clarke caught Langston off the bag with his rocket throw and a tag by second baseman Noah Cook.
In the top of the fifth, Clarke threw out by Mitchell trying to steal second after he reached first on an error. Clarke's one-hop throw arrived in shortstop Garrett Price's glove with Mitchell a stride away and about to slide.
"He made great throws," Hess said. "He's a name to watch the next couple of years. He has a lot of potential in baseball."
• Walton 10, Bingham 0
Baseball America's No. 2-ranked team nationally from Marietta Ga., scored nine runs in the first inning. Third baseman Carter Kieboom (No. 50 on the Draft prospects list) was 1-for-3 with three RBIs. Right-hander Chris Hummel spaced out four hits for the complete-game shutout. Four players singled for the Miners of South Jordan, Utah.
• Chaminade 3, Flanagan 1
Chaminade upset the nation's No. 17-ranked team from Pembroke Pines, Fla. Washington-bound catcher Nick Kahle stroked a 385-foot two-run home run for the Eagles and Blake Rutherford went 2-for-3 with a run scored out of the leadoff spot. Rutherford is No. 7 on the Top 50 Draft Prospects list.
• Allatoona 5, Houston 0
Grayson Harbin threw 6 2/3 innings of scoreless ball and Skyler McPhee preserved the shutout for the Buccaneers from Acworth, Ga. Outfielder Juanyea Tarver stroked a three-run double for Allatoona.
• The First Academy 6, Mater Dei 5
In a matchup of past champions, The First Academy of Orlando, Fla., scored the go-ahead run in the bottom of the sixth when first baseman Bernard Gilot was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to score Cody Oerther. Gilot also hit a 350-foot solo home run in the second for the game's first run. Mater Dei grabbed a 5-4 lead in the top of the sixth on Josh Stephen's 340-foot three-run homer. Mater Dei won the NHSI in 2012 and '13, and First Academy was victorious in 2014.
• Trinity Christian Academy 7, Topsail 0
Three pitchers from the Jacksonville, Fla., school combined for the three-hit shutout. Senior outfielder Todd Lott, who is committed to Louisiana-Lafayette, was 2-for-4 with a run scored and two RBIs. Topsail was led by junior Aaron Beach, who was 1-for-3 with a double.
• North Broward Prep 7, Rocky Mountain 3
North Broward's Middle Tennessee-bound catcher Eduardo Antonini was 2-for-4 with four RBIs and first baseman Dillon Belle-Viel hit a solo homer for the Eagles of Coconut Creek, Fla. For Rocky Mountain, Spencer Gendreau was 1-for-2 with two RBIs.
• Huntington Beach 8, Poly Prep 5
Landon Silver was one of four Oilers to double in the team's win. He was 1-for-3 with two runs scored and two RBIs. Nick Storz was 2-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI for Poly Prep Country Day of Brooklyn, N.Y.
1 p.m. ET -- The First Academy (Fla.) vs. Florence (Ala.)
3 p.m. ET -- Huntington Beach (Calif.) vs. Trinity Christian (Fla.)
3:30 p.m. ET -- Allatoona (Ga.) vs. North Broward Prep (Fla.)
4;30 p.m. ET -- Walton (Ga.) vs. Chaminade (Calif.)
12 p.m. ET -- Teams TBD
3:45 p.m. ET --Teams TBD
Championship game (Teams TBD), 12:15 p.m. ET
Tom Shanahan is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.