The 2009 Anderson Bat National Classic, one of the nation's most prestigious prep baseball tournaments, starts Saturday with a home run derby at Cal State Fullerton's Goodwin Field. This year's field is as strong as ever, with nine teams currently in the ESPN RISE FAB 50 baseball rankings. The championship game will take place Thursday night at Goodwin Field.
Perennial power Don Bosco Prep (Ramsey, N.J.) makes the trip out West this year. Don Bosco enter this year's National Classic as the No. 8-ranked team in the nation, starting the year 2-0. Last season, the Ironmen were the FAB 50 national champions and have a good chance at repeating this year. One of the players to watch on the team is Niko Spezial, a left-handed pitcher who committed to Wake Forest last summer. Spezial played in both the East Coast Professional Showcase and the Area Code Baseball Games. Another player to watch is shortstop Anthony Gomez, who like Spezial played in the East Coast Professional Showcase for the Angels. Don Bosco could face De La Salle (Concord, Calif.), which Don Bosco Prep beat 23-21 in the 2008 football season. The Ironmen will take on El Dorado (Placentia, Calif.) in the first round.
Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) is no stranger to the National Classic. In fact, the Monarchs finished third in 2007 and were runners-up in 2005, when they fell to Esperanza (Anaheim, Calif.) 2-1. This year, the Monarchs were ranked No. 34 in the preseason FAB 50 and have since climbed to No. 11. They had a quick stint atop the ESPN RISE CalHiSports.com state rankings when they opened the season 8-0. They are currently No. 2 in the state with an 11-1 record.
Like Mater Dei, Palm Beach Central (Wellington, Fla.) is back at the National Classic. Entering the tournament as the No. 16 team in the nation, the Broncos just suffered their first loss of the year. In 2007, the Broncos won the National Classic when they topped Poly (Riverside, Calif.) 2-1. That year Poly had an ace in Kyle Ocampo, who has since moved on to the Texas Rangers organization. Palm Beach Central opens up with No. 48 Spanish Fork (Utah) in the first round.
Jesuit (Carmichael, Calif.) enters the tournament ranked No. 18 in the nation and No. 3 in the state. The Marauders look like they might run away with the Delta River League championship this year. In the 2006 National Classic, they went 2-2 with wins against Deer Valley (Antioch, Calif.) and Riverside Poly. They fell to Servite (Anaheim, Calif.) and Palm Beach Central. Lars Anderson, a standout on the 2006 Marauder squad who played in the 2005 Area Code Baseball Games, is now the Boston Red Sox's top minor league prospect. One of the top players for Jesuit is senior catcher Andrew Susac, who played in the 2008 AFLAC All American Game at Dodger Stadium.
Undefeated Notre Dame Prep (Scottsdale, Ariz.) is making the trip to California and will enter the tournament as the No. 24-ranked team. A trio of players, all of whom played for the Cincinnati Reds Area Code Team in 2008, leads the Saints. While it is rare to have three players from one team play in the Area Code Games, Notre Dame is not alone: Another team in the National Classic field, El Toro (Lake Forest, Calif.), also boasts a talented trio. Notre Dame Prep's big three are Casey Upperman (RHP), Matt Ozanne (OF) and Tony Piazza (INF). Upperman has been dominant on the mound thus far, posting an ERA of 1.78 with 29 strikeouts in 19.2 innings pitched. Opponents are hitting a dismal .108 and Upperman has a WHIP of 0.99. Ozanne is hitting .297 on the year and is tied for second on the team in homers with three. Piazza is hitting .375 on the year and is tied for first in doubles with six. They open up against a Norco (Calif.) team that is ranked No. 12 in the state.
Archbishop Mitty (San Jose, Calif.) comes in ranked No. 35 in the nation and No. 6 in California. They fell from the No. 2 spot in this week's CalHiSports.com rankings after they dropped a game to St. Francis (Mountain View, Calif.). The Monarchs have three players to keep an eye on this week: Mitchell Haniger (OF), Brett Fuller (RHP/1B) and Trevor Hildenberger (RHP). Haniger is hitting .289 with two homers and five RBIs. Sophomore Brett Fuller is hitting a solid .234 with four homers and 22 RBIs, while senior pitcher Hildenberger currently boasts an ERA of 2.47. The Monarchs open the tournament with Northview (Covina, Calif.).
El Toro (Lake Forest, Calif.) will take on De La Salle in its first-round game Monday. The Chargers enter the tournament ranked No. 40 in the nation and No. 8 in the state, with a 10-2 record. They are led by Nolan Arenado (3B), Aaron Wirsch (LHP) and Chad Thompson (RHP).
Arenado is hitting a blistering .545 with 12 RBIs. Wirsch is having a solid year on the mound and at the plate. When he toes the rubber, he carries an ERA of 0.96 with 42 strikeouts in 36.1 innings pitched. At the plate, he is showing he has a bit of power as he leads the team in homers with four, while hitting .290. He also leads in RBIs with 16. Thompson, too, has been dominating this year for the Chargers. He carries an ERA of 0.27 with 45 strikeouts and has a WHIP of 0.73. He has only walked five people in 26 innings.
Spanish Fork will represent the Beehive State this year. Teams from Utah are no strangers to the tournament, as Taylorsville (Salt Lake City), American Fork and Cottonwood (Salt Lake City) all have played in the National Classic in recent years. Spanish Fork is currently 10-0 and moved into the national rankings after defeating both Spanish Springs (Sparks, Nev.) and American Fork.
Notre Dame (Sherman Oaks, Calif.) rounds out the teams in the National Classic ranked in the ESPN RISE FAB 50 National Rankings, coming in at No. 50. They are currently ranked No. 9 in the CalHiSports.com rankings, jumping up from the No. 14 spot last week. The Knights are led by David Armendariz (3B) and Kelly Dugan (1B). They open with Norco (Calif.) in the first round.
Day One Schedule:
Aptos, Calif. vs. Mater Dei
Notre Dame vs. Norco
Northview vs. Archbishop Mitty
Mamaroneck, N.Y. vs. Esperanza
Spanish Fork vs. Palm Beach Central
Notre Dame Prep vs. Jesuit
Don Bosco Prep vs. El Dorado
De La Salle vs. El Toro
NOTE: Rankings and records were taken from the ESPN RISE FAB 50 National Rankings and are current though April 4, 2009.
Andrew Drennen covers high school baseball for ESPN RISE. Andrew Knepper contributed to this article.