USA Baseball each year selects a team to represent North Carolina in the High School Invitational Tournament, a national tournament that brings some of the best teams in the country to the National Training Complex in Cary.
Leesville Road High became the first Triangle team to represent the state in the tournament this year. Pride coach Guy Civitello accepted the offer to help his team improve against teams from a national stage.
“It means a ton to us,” Civitello said. “It’s a privilege and an honor that USA Baseball chose us to represent the state of North Carolina. Our kids are excited and our coaches are thrilled. We just hope we show just how talented this state can be in the sport.”
North Carolina programs have typically not fared well in the invitational. Asheville Roberson finished 0-4 as the host in 2014.
That wasn’t comforting to a Leesville team that started the season 1-3.
“Obviously we’re not off to the start we want this season,” Civitello said. “We’re trying to straighten some things out with our lineup and certain kids to make things work. This is going to prepare us for when we get back to our tough conference to get back on track.
“ We know we’re not going to see better competition than what we face here, so this is where the turnaround needs to get started.”
The tournament wasn’t the first national experience for senior pitcher Andrew Papp. He was a member of the 14U USA Baseball team before joining the Pride as a freshman.
“I love these mounds and just these fields in general,” Papp said. “You can’t get a better field than here at the USA complex. ... I felt very comfortable. I just wish things would have gone better for the team.”
During his lone game on the mound, Papp had a strong outing. The senior finished with six strikeouts to just two walks and three earned runs off seven hits over six innings. Unfortunately, his offense was stifled by Christopher Micheles, who pitched a complete-game, two-hit shutout in the 3-0 win for Puyallup, Wash.
There weren’t many positives to pull from the opener, but Papp did get a taste of what it will be like to face one of his future rivals. Brendan Illies, a catcher committed to North Carolina, was behind the plate for Puyallup. Papp, who is headed to N.C. State, got him out three times.
The righthander downplayed the matchup of two future ACC players.
“I just went out there and pitched against guys regardless of who came to the plate,” Papp said of facing Illies. “I always try to remember what batters did during their previous at-bats to attack them. I didn’t even know he went 0-for-3 off me. Now that you bring it up that’s pretty good to know.”
Walking off the field, Papp also added with a smile, “[Illies] was a really good player. Make sure you add that in there. I don’t want him thinking I was overlooking him.”
Leesville dropped its second game in the tournament to Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas, 4-2.