The Florida Christian baseball team, led by a first-year coach and two outstanding pitchers, is gearing up for a significant challenge — the 16-team National High School Invitational in Cary, N.C.
Gulliver and American Heritage were the two local teams who competed in last year’s inaugural event. Now it is Florida Christian’s turn, and the Patriots will begin the four-day tournament at 10 a.m. Wednesday with a matchup against Lexington (S.C.).
“We’re excited and honored to be invited,” said Chris Brigman, who had been an assistant coach with Florida Christian for 10 years and took over after Ernie Padron resigned. “The competition is amazing.”
That competition includes 10 of the nation’s top 25 teams, according to USA Today and Baseball America polls, including The Woodlands (Texas) and Cathedral Catholic (Calif.). The Woodlands is No. 1 in the nation in the USA Today poll, and Cathedral Catholic has that distinction in Baseball America.
The tournament’s defending champion, Mater Dei (Calif.) returns and boasts four hitters who have signed with either Southern Cal or Oregon.
Florida Christian, which is unranked, is led by a pair of senior left-handers: Chris Pelaez, who has committed to LSU, and Andrew George (UNC-Greensboro).
Pelaez, who has three quality pitches with his fastball, slider and changeup, has been at Florida Christian since sixth grade, according to Brigman.
The coach also said University of Miami left-handers and Florida Christian alums Bryan Radziewski and A.J. Salcines have mentored Pelaez for years.
George, who has been at Florida Christian since his freshman year, is known for his changeup.
The Patriots’ first opponent, Lexington, is led by catcher Nick Ciuffo, ranked No. 41 among the top MLB draft prospects coming out of high school this year. Coach Bruce Aven, who led American Heritage to a third-place finish last season, said the key to doing well at the NHSI tournament is pitching depth.
“You have to play four games in four days,” Aven said. “That’s not something high school teams normally do, so managing your staff and having quality depth is key.”
Cathedral Catholic, which has five pitchers with Division I scholarships, may be in a favorable position. Cathedral’s Stephen Gonsalves, a lefty, is the 12th-best prep prospect in the nation and rated the top pitcher at this tournament.
Aven said he thinks elite Florida teams can play with the best.
“We went up there last year hearing about all these big names,” Aven said. “What we found was that the big names really are good, but the overall depth of some of those teams was not nearly as impressive.
“So it comes down to a little bit of luck, too. Do you face the ace pitcher who throws 98 [mph]? Or do you get their second guy who throws 88?”
TRACK AND FIELD
Lourdes Academy runner Lourdes Brea ran a county-record time of 10:56.65 in the 3,200 meters at the FSU relays in Tallahassee this past Friday, surpassing former Ransom Everglades runner Nicole Carpio’s record 11:05.51 set in 2010. Belen’s Avery Lopez also set a school record in the boys’ 3,200 with a time of 9:10.34.
The previously unbeaten Mater Academy baseball team took its first loss Monday afternoon in its first game at the Selective Recruiting Sir Pizza Invitational.