The ping of the ball off the bat will be notably absent at this year's Diamond Sports National Classic.
The annual tournament has chosen to use all wooden bats during the four-day event, which features some of the top teams in Southern California, as well as Arizona, Utah and Florida.
According to a report in the Orange County Register, the move to wooden bats was prompted by the presence of Marin Catholic, a Northern California team that has been witness to the devastation metal bats can cause. In a contest played on March 11, Wildcat pitcher Gunnar Sandberg was hit in the head by a line drive off of a metal bat. Sandberg has been in a coma for much of the past three weeks but has shown improvement in recent weeks, according to the Marin Independent Journal.
Due to Sandberg's injury, The Marin County Athletic League has decided to ban metal bats for the rest of the season. Other leagues in the San Francisco Bay Area have followed suit with a similar ban and the National Classic joined the cause this year in a move that could become permanent for the tournament, according to the Register.
The 16-team tournament will be played at three sites, including Esperanza and El Dorado High Schools and Cal State Fullerton. The action begins with a home run derby on Saturday with tournament commencing on Monday at 10 a.m. The championship game is set for Thursday at 7 p.m. on the Fullerton campus.
The tournament annually features some of the top teams in the country and this year is no different. Bishop Amat, South Hills, Lutheran, West Ranch, Crespi and Palm Desert are all ranked among the top teams in their divisions in the CIF-Southern Section while Edison and Mater Dei have both been ranked at various times this season. Arizona teams Notre Dame Prep and Salpointe Catholic are among the top five teams in their state rankings while Cottonwood is among the best teams from Utah.
Following is a closer look at each of the first-round matchups for this year's tournament.
Palm Desert (Calif.) vs. Edison (Huntington Beach, Calif.)
April 5, 10 a.m. at El Dorado High School
About Palm Desert: The Aztecs are 8-4 on the season and suffered all four defeats at the Newport Elks Tournament in early March. Palm Desert fell to Bishop Amat (4-3), Mater Dei (3-2), Santiago (14-6) and Paramount (8-1). The Aztecs have won seven in a row including a 13-0 win over Coachella Valley on Wednesday and an 8-1 victory over La Quinta on Thursday. Ryan Garvey, Mychal Kabeary, Scotty Burcham and John Schuknecht have been the offensive sparkplugs for the Aztecs. Garvey (.361 average) leads the team in RBI with 19 while Burcham (.421) has a team-best six doubles and Kabeary (.568) leads with 21 hits. Schuknecht (.455) has a pair of home runs to lead in that category. Nick Baker is 3-1 on the mound with 12 strikeouts in four outings while Jonathan Serven is 2-0 in three appearances.
About Edison: The Chargers began the season with high hopes thanks to the return of ace junior pitcher Henry Owens and the transfer of brothers Christian and Timmy Lopes from Valencia. Edison, which was the runnerup in the Southern Section Division I playoffs last year, is 8-4 with losses to Sonora, JSerra Catholic (twice) and tournament host Esperanza. The Chargers enter the National Classic with a solid win over Newport Harbor, winning 4-3 on Thursday.
Notre Dame Prep (Scottsdale, Ariz.) vs. Bishop Amat (La Puente, Calif.)
April 5, 1 p.m. at Esperanza High School
About Notre Dame Prep: The Saints return after finishing fifth in last year's National Classic. Notre Dame Prep lost only one game in the tournament, falling to Mater Dei, but the loss occurred in the second round and put the Saints in the fifth-place bracket.
The Saints finished one win short of an Arizona 4A Division II state championship last year, falling to Mingus in the finals. Notre Dame Prep is 9-3 on the season and ranked No. 2 in the state behind Mingus. Joseph Greco has been the heavy hitter for the Saints, hitting .533 with 13 RBI and three home runs. Casey Scott has also been solid with a .462 average and a team-high 18 hits. Brian Poupore is batting .423. On the mound, Tayler Scott is 3-0 with a 1.00 ERA and 19 strikeouts.
About Bishop Amat: The Lancers are one of the favorites in the tournament thanks to an 11-1 record that includes wins over Palm Desert, Santiago, Mater Dei, Capistrano Valley, Chatsworth, Royal and St. Paul. Bishop Amat has one of the top pitchers in the state in Paul Paez, who is 4-0 on the season with 30 strikeouts in 24.1 innings pitched and a 0.58 ERA. Brandon McNitt has also been solid with a 3-0 record and 21 Ks. Bernardo Zavala (.348) leads the offense with 14 RBI and three home runs while Jay Andreson (.414) and Ryan Serrato (.500) each have two homers. Rio Ruiz, one of the state's top sophomores, is batting .385 with a team-high five doubles.
Palos Verdes Peninsula (Rolling Hills Estates, Calif.) vs. Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.)
April 5, 4 p.m. at El Dorado High School
About Palos Verdes Peninsula: The Panthers are 5-4 on the season, not including Friday's doubleheader with Dos Pueblos. The Panthers have losses to Bishop Amat, El Segundo, Loyola and St. John Bosco. Significant wins include a victory over North Torrance.
The Panthers are batting .326 as a team with Yuki Takahashi leading the way with a .458 average and 11 hits. Mark Okuma is hitting .421 while Joshin Atone is batting .348. Dillon Rozas leads the pitching staff with a 2-0 record and 10 strikeouts. Cristian Torres is 1-2 but has 21 strikeouts in 14.2 innings.
About Mater Dei: The defending National Classic champions are just 6-4 on the season but the Monarchs have played a rugged schedule thus far. Although they've lost to Santiago, Bishop Amat, St. Paul and Santa Margarita, the Monarchs have wins over Capistrano Valley, Lutheran and JSerra Catholic. Konnor Armijo is one of the leading home run hitters in the tournament with four round trippers among his 10 hits this year. He's hitting .357 on the year while Ty Moore leads the team with a .414 average. Mater Dei's top returning players from last year, shorstop Derek Campbell and outfielder Cory Hahn, are batting .258 and .296 respectively.
IMG Academies (Bradenton, Fla.) vs. El Dorado (Placentia, Calif.)
April 5, 7 p.m. at Cal State Fullerton
About IMG Academies: After posting a 33-1 record last year as a freelance team in Florida, Pendleton changed its name to IMG Academies this year and has struggled to a 7-5-1 record, albeit against a much tougher schedule than last year. IMG has played some of the top teams in Florida, falling to Lake Wales, Seminole and Sarasota.
IMG can field a potent lineup that includes Dillon Moyer (son of MLB pitcher Jamie Moyer), who is batting .357, Richard Baerga, who leads the team with a .514 averages and 18 hits, and Jimmy O'Neill, who is hitting .426. Casey Mulholland leads the team with three home runs and is also the team's top pitcher with a 3-1 mark and 33 strikeouts.
About El Dorado: The Golden Hawks are one of the host teams and sport only a 5-7 record, but they pulled off one of the big upsets at last year's tournament then they defeated 2008 New Jersey state champion Don Bosco Prep in the first round. The Golden Hawks do have some pop in the lineup as four players have at least two home runs. Drew Luther leads the team with 16 RBI and is hitting .433. Brennan Fulkerson is also batting .433 with 13 hits and two home runs.
West Ranch (Valencia, Calif.) vs. Lutheran (Orange, Calif.)
April 5, 1 p.m. at El Dorado High School
About West Ranch: The Wildcats are ranked No. 9 in the Southern Section Division I rankings and have a 7-2 record on the season with losses to Camarillo and Valencia. West Ranch has an offense that is hitting at a .429 clip with 10 home runs - five by Josh Heinz, who also leads the team with 26 RBI and a .517 average. Nico Rusconi has missed one game, but boasts a .581 average with a team-high 18 hits. Chris Caldwell is second in RBI with 14 and is hitting .448. J.C. Cloney has been the ace of the staff with a 4-0 record and 33 strikeouts.
About Orange Lutheran: The Lancers hold impressive wins over Bishop Amat and JSerra Catholic, but Lutheran has also fallen to Mater Dei and Servite in Trinity League play to stand at 9-3 on the season. The Lancers are ranked No. 3 in the Southern Section Division I poll.
Chase Harrison has been the top hitter for the Lancers with a .394 average and 13 hits. Josh Doyle is right behind at .382 with 13 hits and five doubles. Andrew Thurman has had the most success on the mound with a 4-0 mark that includes 40 strikeouts in 28 innings.
South Hills (West Covina, Calif.) vs. Salpointe Catholic (Tucson, Ariz.)
April 5, 10 a.m. at Esperanza High School
About South Hills: The defending Southern Section Division III champions are off to another strong start with an 8-1 record and a No. 2 ranking in the Southern Section coaches poll. the only loss is a 5-1 defeat against Chino Hills. The Huskies return all-league players Dakota Behr, Cody Doyle, Tyler France, and Christian Ibarra from last year's squad.
About Salpointe Catholic: The Lancers are ranked No. 4 in the Class 5A Division I state rankings by the Arizona Coaches Association and are 12-3 after a 12-1 loss to Desert Mountain on Wednesday. Salpointe also lost twice at the Tucson Baseball Classic to Fort Collins and Cienega.
Jacob Hunter has bashed four home runs for the Lancers and is batting .419 with 20 RBI. Harrison Graham has 18 RBI and is hitting .475 while Joe Serrano is batting .452 with 16 RBI. Dan Slania has been nearly perfect on the mound, posting a 6-0 record with 43 strikeouts in 36 innings pitched.
Marin Catholic (Kentfield, Calif.) vs. Crespi (Encino, Calif.)
April 5, 4 p.m. at Esperanza High School
About Marin Catholic: The Wildcats are 6-2-1 on the season, but have had a rough season due to the loss of a fallen teammate. Pitcher Gunnar Sandberg was hit in the head by a batted ball on March 11 and has been in a coma ever since, although he is showing sign of improvement according to a recent report in the Marin Independent Journal.
The Wildcats have several members from the football team that finished second in the Division IV state bowl game in December, including quarterback Nate Kristoff who is one of the team's top hitters with a .474 average. Ryan Lynch, another football standout, and Rob Woodcock each have 2-0 records on the mound.
About Crespi: The 2008 National Classic champion, the Crespi Celts are 11-3 on the season and ranked No. 1 in the Southern Section Division II rankings. The Celts are coming off a doubleheader split with Palos Verdes and also have losses to Chaminade and Thousand Oaks. Scott Heineman is batting .385 while Michael Hubbard is batting .471 with 16 basehits. Alex Gonzalez leads the team with 15 home runs and is batting .448 while Jack Colick is hitting .394. All-area standout Ryon Healy is batting .324 and is 2-0 on the mound. John Kearns leads the pitching staff with a 4-0 record and 26 strikeouts. Healy has 22 Ks in three appearances.
Cottonwood (Salt Lake City, Utah) vs. Esperanza (Anaheim, Calif.)
April 5, 4:30 p.m. at Cal-State Fullerton
About Cottonwood: One of the favorites in the 5A division in Utah, the Colts are ranked No. 4 in the state with a 4-1 record. The only loss is to defending state champion Spanish Fork. Cottonwood moved up to the 5A ranks this year and returns all-state picks Dalton Gust (.415, 4 HR in 2009) and Derrick Pitts.
About Esperanza: The Aztecs host the tournament along with El Dorado and the Aztecs could make some noise in the tournament. Esperanza (7-4) defeated Edison last week, 12-2, and fell just short in a 16-13 slugfest loss to Newport Harbor. The Aztecs were the surprise of the tournament last year, knocking off Mamaroneck, Archbishop Mitty, and Palm Beach Central to finish in third place.
Kevin Viers has been a monster at the plate, batting .414 with 18 RBI and five home runs. Jonathan MacIel has the team's best average at .484 with 12 RBI and two home runs. Matt Ripley leads the pitching staff with a 3-0 mark.