National High School Invitational set to begin in North Carolina

Kevin Askeland | Monday, March 21, 2016

Walton, Flanagan, Huntington Beach and Liberty Christian among the favorites to win one of the nation's most prestigious events.

Video: Huntington Beach (Calif.) Preseason Baseball Photo Shoot

The National High School Invitational will begin its fifth season on Wednesday with 16 of the nation's top teams vying for the championship in Cary, N.C.

Eight games are scheduled for Day 1, starting with tournament host Topsail (N.C.) versus Trinity Christian Academy (Jacksonville, Fla.) at 10 a.m. EST. Here's a look at things you need to know about this year's tournament.

The Favorites
Huntington Beach will look to rebound from a slow start with a win in the NHSI.
Photo by Terry Jack
Huntington Beach will look to rebound from a slow start with a win in the NHSI.

Huntington Beach (Calif.)
Huntington Beach began the season as the No. 2 team in the country in the MaxPreps Preseason Top 100, but the Oilers have lost four games already this year and carry a 3-4 record into the NHSI. Nevertheless, with Hagen Danner and Nick Pratto, the Oilers have the type of pitching necessary to carry them through this type of tournament.

Walton (Marietta, Ga.)
Currently ranked No. 10 in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25 National Baseball Rankings presented by Army National Guard, Walton is the highest-ranked team competing in the NHSI. The Raiders are 11-1 and have one of the nation's top infielders in shortstop Carter Kieboom.

Flanagan (Pembroke Pines, Fla.)
The Falcons have been playing well in the first month, and have played more games than any other team in the tournament with a 13-1 record. Flanagan sports one of the nation's top infielders in Mark Vientos, a junior who could be the No. 1 pick in the 2017 Major League Baseball draft.

Liberty Christian (Lynchburg, Va.)
The Bulldogs have played just two games so far this season, both 10-0 wins, but they are coming off back-to-back state championships in the Virginia Independent School Athletic Association. Liberty has one of the nation's top two-way players in outfielder/pitcher Zach Hess.

Defending Champs

The 2015 champion San Clemente has not returned to defend its title, however two previous champions are in attendance. Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.), which won the 2012 and 2013 tournaments, returns for the first time since winning the event while The First Academy (Orlando, Fla.), the 2014 champion, is also back for the second time. The two previous champions meet in the last game of the first round on Wednesday.

State Champions

Three teams won section or state championships last year, while several others were in contention:

Trinity Christian Academy (Jacksonville, Fla.) won the Florida Class 3A state title.

Huntington Beach (Calif.) won the California Southern Section Division I championship (California does not have state championships for baseball).

Liberty Christian (Lynchburg, Va.) won the VISAA Division I state tournament in 2014 and 2015.

Bingham (South Jordan, Utah) was the runner-up to Pleasant Grove in the 2015 Utah Class 5A state playoffs.

Walton (Marietta, Ga.) was runner-up to Parkview (Lilburn, Ga.) in the 2015 Georgia 6A state playoffs.

Allatoona (Acworth, Ga.) was a semifinalist in the 2015 Georgia Class 5A state playoffs.

Houston (Germantown, Tenn.) was a semifinalist in the 2015 Tennessee Class 3A state playoffs.

Players to Watch

Blake Rutherford, Chaminade, Outfield
Member of Team USA 18U. Considered the top high school position player in the nation.

Hagen Danner, Huntington Beach, Pitcher
One of the top junior pitchers in the nation, Danner is a possible first-round MLB draft pick in 2017.

Nick Pratto, Huntington Beach, Pitcher
A transfer from Mater Dei, Pratto was a teammate of Danner's in Little League on a team that won the Little League World Series. Considered one of the top 10 junior pitchers in the nation.

Mark Vientos, Flanagan
Could be the top high school position player drafted in the 2017 MLB draft.

Zack Hess, Liberty Christian
A two-way standout at pitcher and in the outfield, Hess was a MaxPreps Preseason All-American.

Carter Kieboom, Walton
The senior shortstop has moved into position to be one of the top high school middle infielders drafted in the 2016 MLB draft.

Brax Garrett, Florence
Generally considered to be one of the top five senior high school pitchers in the country.

Gregory Veliz, North Broward Prep
A transfer from Key West, Veliz was one of the top players in south Florida as a junior.

Daniel Bakst, Poly Prep Country Day
A member of Team USA 18U, Bakst has committed to play at Stanford.

Nick Storz, Poly Prep Country Day
A junior, Storz is ranked as one of the top underclassmen in New York City.

The Schedule

Wednesday, March 23

Trinity Christian Academy (Jacksonville, Fla.) vs. Topsail (Hampstead, N.C.), 10 a.m.

Florence (Ala.) vs. Liberty Christian (Lynchburg, Va.), 11 a.m.

Chaminade (West Hills, Calif.) vs. Flanagan (Pembroke Pines, Fla.), 12 p.m.

North Broward Prep (Coconut Creek, Fla.) vs. Rocky Mountain (Fort Collins, Colo.), 1 p.m.

Huntington Beach (Calif.) vs. Poly Prep Country Day (Brooklyn, N.Y.), 2 p.m.

Allatoona (Acworth, Ga.) vs. Houston (Germantown, Tenn.), 3:30 p.m.

Bingham (South Jordan, Utah) vs. Walton (Marietta, Ga.), 4 p.m.

Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) vs. The First Academy (Orlando, Fla.), 5 p.m.