Mater Dei better than Hobgood

Mater Dei better than Hobgood

The Orange County Register
Mater Dei used a variety of approaches to chop down Norco's Matt Hobgood and progress to the CIF Division I baseball semifinals.

SANTA ANA- Mater Dei prepped for Norco's Matt Hobgood the way college basketball teams used to get ready for Lew Alcindor.

Instead of stretching brooms in front of jump shooters, Monarchs coach Burt Call moved the pitching machine to the 45-foot mark in practice. Then he turned up the velocity.

This might seem a little extreme, but so are the high school playoffs, one of the few single-elimination events you'll ever see in baseball.

And so is Hobgood: 6-foot-4, 235, author of 21 home runs at the plate, and an ERA of 0.33 with an 11-0 record on the mound.

"We were not going to let Matt beat us," said Call, as if it were up to them.

Turned out, it was. The Monarchs knocked off Norco, 7-4, in this CIF-SS Division I quarterfinal with an assortment of rope-a-dopes and slingshots.

Trailing 3-2 in the bottom of the fourth, Mater Dei got two leadoff singles to start the inning in front of leadoff man Derek Campbell, a junior shortstop whose range already had gotten the Monarchs out of a difficult first.

Campbell dropped a perfect bunt single in front of the Cougars, loading the bases with no outs for Cory Hahn.

Hahn looks like he ought to be riding Hobgood, not facing him. Hahn's about 5-foot-9 and plays center field. The Cougars brought in the infielders. Hahn concentrated on lofting the ball over them. He did that. Better yet, he knocked it over the outfielders, too.

Hahn was in a full sprint when the ball sailed out. The grand slam put the Monarchs up, 6-3. And, on one pitch, Hobgood had given up more runs (four) than he had all season (three).

"I didn't even know it was a slam until I looked up on the board and saw that four," Hahn said.

"I was just trying to stay on my feet, going around the bases. I almost tripped over my shoelace coming out of the box.

"It was a 2-2 pitch and he tried to come in and I just reacted, just used his velocity to knock it out. It was pretty exciting. But I'm on a roll right now, I guess. That's four home runs in five games."

The fourth actually came in the sixth inning, when Hahn unloaded on a low fastball — "just dropped the hammer down" — and golfed it out. Hobgood gave up a walk and then left, after 114 pitches and eight strikeouts.

"We just followed the game plan perfectly," Campbell said.

"His bunt was what set it all up," Hahn said. "We had bases loaded and no out and all I was thinking about was a fly ball. I concentrated on keeping my shoulder closed and didn't try to do too much.

"If I'd gotten too excited, and gone up there thinking about a slam, I couldn't have done that."

Baseball America projects Hobgood as the 27th pick in the first round of the June 9 draft, to Minnesota. Last year, he beat Orange Lutheran's Gerrit Cole, 1-0, in a playoff classic.

He is expected to pitch, not hit, in pro baseball. You saw why Friday, especially after the slam. Hobgood struck out the side to keep it at 6-3.

He threw up to 94 mph and his curve certainly looked acrobatic, but Hobgood couldn't command it early. He needed 90 pitches to get through the first four innings. Campbell began that process with an eight-pitch at-bat and a leadoff walk.

"Getting his pitch count high early, that was important," Campbell said.

The scouts also saw Hobgood go 0 for 3, which .490 hitters don't do every day. But in the first inning they saw Call give Hobgood an intentional walk. With one out and a runner on first.

Aaron Northcraft struck out the next hitter and then suffered a three-run bomb by Jake Clark for a 3-0 Norco lead, the kind Hobgood never gave up before.

"That sort of changed our plans," Call said, "but I thought it was the right thing to do."

Northcraft started hitting corners after that and didn't run into trouble until the sixth. The Cougars got two runners and scored on a wild pitch, for 6-4.

Northcraft fanned leadoff man Drake Zarate, and Call lifted him for Matt Blanchard, who merely had to strike out Wes Hatton to keep Hobgood in the dugout in a game-winning situation.

Blanchard set up shop on the outside corner and struck out Hatton looking. Then Blanchard started the seventh — and ended the game — by fanning Hobgood and two other Cougars.

Blanchard, like Hahn and Campbell, is a junior. They head to Tuesday's semifinal, unfazed by man or machine.

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