The fourth annual National High School Baseball Invitational gets underway Wednesday with 16 teams that are making the trip to the event at USA Baseball’s National Training Complex in Cary, N.C., for the first time.
Eight of the 16 are ranked in the Super 25 baseball preseason rankings — No. 1 College Park (Pleasant Hill, Calif.), No. 2 JSerra (San Juan Capistrano, Calif.), No. 3 College Station (Texas), No. 6 San Clemente (Calif.), No. 16 Lambert (Suwanee, Ga.), No. 20 Farragut (Knoxville, Tenn.), No. 23 DeSoto Central (Southaven, Miss.) and No. 24 Puyallup (Wash.).
But that doesn’t mean a surprise team can’t emerge in the four-day event. A year ago, that team was First Academy from Orlando.
“They were not on too many people’s radars at start of season,” said Mark Dvoroznak, the tournament director and assistant director, development for USA Baseball. “They won it and started seeing their name pop up in the rankings and deservedly so.”
Assembling the field begins more than a year in advance and Dvoroznak says the organization has specific criteria on which teams get invitations. The event is considered the top high school baseball tournament in the country.
Seven first-round games take place Wednesday, with the eighth on Thursday between College Station (Texas) and Trinity Prep (Winter Park, Fla.). Because of a Texas state association rule, teams from the Lone Star State cannot play on Wednesdays.
The championship game is scheduled for Saturday at 12:15.
USA TODAY High School Sports spoke with Dvoroznak about the tournament. The first-round schedule is below
Question: What is the process for assembling the field?
Answer: That process actually starts a year out. We’ve already begun to look at teams for 2016. We look at three main criteria: First is program history with teams that year in and year out are in playoffs or making state championship runs. Second is the depth of the team specifically in terms of pitching. You are playing four games in four days weather pending. The third factor is potentially high draft picks for the following years. That third category usually falls into place with some of the better teams. We can’t have a team come in here that has one first-round draft picks and then falls off the table. We want a deep degree of talent.
Question: Can you explain the format of the tournament?
Answer: Winners go through the winner’s bracket in single elimination. The teams that do not win the first game, they don’t go into a bracket. It’s basically our discretion to announce the matchups. We’ve agreed with all the teams that it’s best we do that. If we have a set bracket, we could have teams from California playing each other and these teams are not coming across the country to play teams they would play in the regular season. If they don’t win the first game, we want them to play against teams from Florida, from Georgia and elsewhere.
Question: Are there particular teams that you are interested in seeing?
Answer: We have 16 teams that have never participated. We have teams from the Northeast, the Pacific Northwest, Pennsylvania. It will really be interesting to see how they come in and compete. I’m very excited about the teams we have in.
Question: The field has a number of teams that haven’t even practiced outside yet because of weather in its part of the country. Is that something you just have to play through?
Answer: I think it’s one of those things that you have to play through. Talking to the schools from the north, those schools are eager and excited for their first game. Teams that are hitting indoors might not have best backdrop or the whitest of baseballs but they get outside and the ball is a little bigger and the excitement is higher to compete against teams from around the country. Those schools are confident in their teams and players. You won’t hear excuses that they haven’t been outside. They’re excited to play some games.
Question: Who are some players whom you will be watching?
Answer: Joe DeMers from College Park in Northern California is an arm we’ve seen multiple times on national teams. He can run it up with there with velocity. Lucas Herbert, the catcher from San Clemente, is a loud stick. Seth Beer, an outfielder from Lambert (Ga.). Duncan Pence, the infielder from Farragut. I think a couple of guys from Mississippi are going to come in and surprise some people.
Question: One of the top player who won’t be taking part is pitcher Kolby Allard from San Clemente, who is sidelined with a stress reaction in his back.
Answer: He’s a great athlete. He was on our under-18 national team and has some international experience. He was pitching in the gold medal game against Cuba. He has the intangibles to pitch in a big game and he wants the ball. Before the injury, he was slated to throw Game 1 at this event. He was excited for the matchup and he wanted to pitch in that game. He’s definitely a competitor and an all-around great player.
First-round schedule (All times ET)
10 a.m.: JSerra (San Juan Capistrano, Calif.) vs. Mosley (Lynn Haven, Fla.)
10:30 a.m.: Horizon (Scottdale, Ariz.) vs. Loyalsock Township (Williamsport, Pa.)
Noon.: College Park (Pleasant Hill, Calif.) vs. Farragut (Knoxville, Tenn.)
1 p.m.: Huntington Beach (Calif.) vs. St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale)
1:15 p.m. Puyallup (Wash.) vs. Leesville Road (Raleigh, N.C.)
3:15 p.m. DeSoto Central (Southaven, Miss.) vs. Whitewater (Fayetteville, Ga.)
3:30 p.m. San Clemente (Calif.) vs. Lambert (Suwanee, Ga.)
9:45 a.m. Trinity Prep (Winter Park, Fla.) vs. College Station (Texas)