CARY — Every year, USA Baseball invites 144 of the nation’s top high school players to Cary to participate in the Tournament of Stars and compete for a chance to play for the 18U National Team over the summer.
For Braxton Davidson and Jack Flaherty, members of Dixie and AABC teams, respectively, it’s a chance to eventually play together for Team USA before becoming teammates with North Carolina following their senior seasons. The two met last week in the Perfect Game Nationals at the Metrodome in Minneapolis and continued the trip to Cary this week.
“This is just an awesome feeling to be recognized as one of the best players in the country,” Davidson said. “Jack and I have spoken several times and hopefully we’ll both be teammates at UNC. This is like a second home for both of us.”
While Davidson traveled less than four hours from T.C. Roberson High in Asheville for the tournament, Flaherty’s trip was longer – flying from Los Angeles.
The rising senior at Harvard-Westlake (Burbank, Calif.) is participating in the event for the second season after being one of just 18 last year to participate as a sophomore. Despite not making the team, Flaherty said he is much more comfortable and believes he has a chance to earn a spot this time around.
“This has been an unbelievable experience for me,” he said. “I’m really happy to be out here for this a second time. It’s a blessing to be playing with and against the top players in this class, and I feel a lot more relaxed than I was last year.
“I’m really comfortable out here in North Carolina. I had been here three times before I committed to UNC, so I knew I liked the area and was comfortable with being away from home.”
Much like Flaherty, Davidson has spent quite a bit of time in Cary. The infielder participated in the National High School Invitational along with Flaherty, making a good enough impression to earn an invite to the Tournament of Stars.
As a member of the Dixie team – whose colors are Tar Heel-like with light blue and white – Davidson went 3-for-5 and crushed two home runs in the team’s first win of the tournament on Thursday.
“I’m glad I’m on this team because I get to wear the Carolina colors,” Davidson said. “I’m really comfortable in this light blue because that’s my future school. I’m excited to go there and it just makes me want to play harder.”
While both players are on track to have successful college careers, for Flaherty, the opportunity to play at North Carolina didn’t always seem like a possibility. Following his freshman year, the 6-foot-3 infielder was interested in only in-state schools with UCLA – who faced UNC Friday night – being one of his top choices.
During his sophomore season, Flaherty came to North Carolina for the first time to participate in the inaugural 2012 National High School Invitational held by USA Baseball. Though his team, Harvard-Westlake fell just short of taking home the title, Flaherty fell in love with the Chapel Hill campus after training.
“Committing to North Carolina, at first, didn’t seem like was something I thought could really happen,” Flaherty said. “My mom really didn’t want me to leave (California), but when we practiced there and I visited the school and got the offer … I just felt so blessed and knew I couldn’t turn it down.
“I have to thank USA Baseball for that, because if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be where I am.”
Smith: 919-829-4841; Twitter: @RCorySmith