CARY, N.C. -- The 2006 edition of The Woodlands baseball team went 38-1 and was the No. 1 team in the country, according to Baseball America. That team featured 2006 first-rounder Kyle Drabek and Paul Goldschmidt, who went on to Texas State before becoming an eighth-rounder in 2009.
This year's version of the Texas high school is off to a very similar start, going 20-0, including an opening-round win on Thursday morning against Jenks High School (Oklahoma) at the National High School Invitational, and taking over the top spot in BA's rankings. It's leading to the obvious comparisons.
"There is a great team chemistry with this group, just like in '06," head coach Ron Eastman said. "They've really come together. We have some outstanding players, like Ryan [Burnett], and some of the other guys who've signed D1 scholarships, but there are no egos. This group, just like in '06, it's a total team effort. That's the best comparison right there. We're getting outstanding pitching just like we did in '06, but the team aspect is tremendous this year."
The pitching isn't quite Drabek and Steven Maxwell, the No. 2 starter on that 2006 team who went on to Texas Christian University, but it was plenty good enough on Thursday morning. Lefty Burnett is this year's ace and while he doesn't have the Draft profile of a Drabek or 2010 first-rounder Jameson Taillon, he is committed to TCU. He went the distance against Jenks, allowing just one unearned run over seven innings on two hits and two walks while striking out eight.
Burnett threw his fastball in the 88-89 mph range for most of the game with a decent breaking ball. When the seventh inning came around, he had a little more in the tank, hitting 91 mph to finish off Jenks.
"My adrenaline was going," Burnett said. "I wanted to finish it. My fastball was working, so I just stuck with it."
"He's actually been doing that the whole season," Eastman said. "He will find another gear at the end of the game to finish it. He seems to get stronger in the sixth and the seventh."
Burnett is one of five players on The Woodlands roster with Division I commitments and while none will hear their names called in the first round, as Taillon and Drabek (No. 18 overall) did, the lefty is well aware of following in those famous alumni's footsteps.
"It's definitely motivation for me because I want to be as good as them," Burnett said. "It's an honor to be behind Jamo and Drabek and Bryan Brickhouse (2011 third-round pick of the Royals) and all of them."
NHSI semis set, with two familiar teams in mix
CARY, N.C. -- After Thursday's marathon finale between Milton (Georgia) and The Woodlands (Texas), the semifinals for the second annual National High School Invitational are set. Those who followed the tournament a year ago will notice a familiar tone.
The two teams that met in the 2012 championship game are on the same path again. Harvard-Westlake, last year's runner-up, will play Venice High School in the first semi. The SoCal and Florida teams will meet at noon ET. The 2012 champions, Mater Dei, will play The Woodlands at 3:45 p.m. ET. Both games will be streamed live from USA Baseball's National Training Complex on usabaseball.com.
Mater Dei catcher Jeremy Martinez, a veteran of USA Baseball, is the lone representative of MLB.com's Top 50 Draft prospects still playing for a trophy, but he isn't the only Draft-eligible player on the four 2-0 teams. Martinez's teammate, third baseman Ryan McMahon, is a solid prospect who had a big double on Thursday. Former big leaguer Craig Grebeck's son, Austin, is another 2013 graduate who hits leadoff for Mater Dei. Another senior, Davis Tominaga, was a hero both with his arm and his bat, in the 2012 NHSI.
Harvard-Westlake's top seniors are catcher Arden Pabst and first baseman Joe Corrigan, but the best player on the team is 2014 prospect Ryan Flaherty. Flaherty struck out 13 in his start on Wednesday and will play third for the remainder of the tournament.
Venice's top Draft prospect is outfielder Nick Longhi, though he hasn't seen many pitches to hit so far here. He did score two runs in Venice's 7-3 win over Cathedral Catholic to get to the semifinals. Fellow 2013 grad Colton Lightner has gone 3-for-6 in two games.
The Woodlands got a standout performance from senior Ryan Burnett on Thursday morning to get them to their second-round game Thursday afternoon (High school teams in Texas aren't allowed to play games on Wednesday). They have five players with Division I commitments, but it might be their first baseman, junior Chris Andritsos, who has the most potential. They are bound to be tired after their 14-inning, 9-8 victory over Milton in the quarterfinal.
Sheffield scratched from NHSI consolation game
CARY, N.C. -- Scouts arrived on Thursday morning for Day 2 of the National High School Invitational, anticipating a consolation game between Eustis (Fla.) High School and Tullahoma (Tenn.) High School.
The reason: watching right-hander Jordan Sheffield from Tullahoma face Eustis catcher Chris Okey, both in MLB.com's Top 50 Draft prospects rankings. It's that kind of matchup that has quickly made the NHSI a must-stop for the scouting industry.
On this crisp, cool morning, however, the scouts were disappointed, as Sheffield was scratched from his start because of forearm tightness.
Sheffield hasn't pitched since March 12, a game he came out of after 73 pitches because of that right forearm. He's been resting and rehabbing, acting as the team's DH in the interim. He hadn't even returned to shortstop until Wednesday's NHSI opener against Mater Dei High School (Calif.), and it seemed like things were heading in the right direction. He told coach Brad White that his arm felt great Wednesday night before the team's curfew."The last thing I told him this morning was, 'If it doesn't feel like you can go, you have to be honest with me, '" White said. "I went to the 'pen with him, looked at his face as he was throwing. Some pitches, he was hurting on the top of the forearm out at the extension point. So we made the decision to shut him down.
"The kid wanted to throw, but he was smart enough today to give me the feedback I needed as a head coach not to put him in jeopardy."
Sheffield was only going to throw 40 pitches on Thursday, but instead, Tullahoma turned to Dalton Davis and Tyler Burns to outlast Eustis, 4-3, in 11 innings. Sheffield played first base, and he will continue to play there or DH for the remainder of the tournament. When the team gets back to Tennessee, he'll go to see a doctor to make sure it's nothing more serious.
Forearm tightness is often a precursor to elbow trouble. It's not uncommon for a pitcher to have forearm issues, and it eventually turns out he has an ulnar collateral ligament tear and needs Tommy John surgery. It was clear on Thursday that the thought had crossed White's mind, but he was still hoping it wasn't that serious.
"Watching the trainer do the test for the UCL, I honestly don't feel that way," White said. "If we felt that way at all, we'd have gone to see a doctor. I really think it's something in the forearm right there, but it's in a bad spot.
"You've got a kid with a mid-upper 90s arm. There's a lot of stuff that can go wrong in there. It's in the back of our mind -- we're scared, but we're still very cautiously optimistic."