CHANDLER – After a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19, USA Baseball’s National High School Invitational Tournament returned to North Carolina.
Hamilton High School is happy it did.
Behind Logan Saloman’s strong arm, the Huskies captured a 3-1 first-round victory Wednesday over Bishop Verot, a powerhouse program from Fort Myers, Florida. Saloman went the distance and Hamilton advances to Thursday’s quarterfinals of the elite 16-team national tournament. The Huskies are the only team from Arizona participating.
Armed with numerous college commits and and strong junior and seniors classes, the Huskies program is making its third appearance under coach Mike Woods. MaxPreps and Perfect Game scouting service consider his team one of the best in the country, but Woods prefers to think of the tournament as an ideal gauge of those rankings.
“The competition, it’s a good measuring stick to see how good we are or how good we think we are here in Arizona,” Woods said. “We can play some of the national powers and see how we measure up. And being there a couple of times in the past, it really brings out the best in us.”
A less experienced team may feel intimidated by the NHSI, which features 16 of the most prestigious high school baseball teams across the country. The Huskies, however, have an understanding of what to expect. Their first two trips competing in the NHSI came in 2013 and 2017 with some of their bet-known alumni.
The 2013 team included two MLB players: Cody Bellinger and Patrick Murphy. Both committed to the University of Oregon but opted for the professional route out of high school. Bellinger, the 2019 National League MVP, has thrived with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Murphy has battled injuries for years but finally secured an active roster spot pitching for the Washington Nationals.
He has fond memories of his time at Hamilton.
“It was an awesome experience,” Murphy said. “I had Tommy John surgery after my junior season, so I was out for my senior season, but they still let me travel with the team. It was a great experience with the guys playing some of the best high school competition in the country.”
Hamilton’s current team is also filled with top college and major league recruits. Perfect Game preseason All-American Gavin Turley, who has committed to play at Oregon State, knows this tournament is a step above what is seen locally.
“I’d say the competition, it’s going to be unreal over there,” Turley said. “So just really looking forward to going and getting after it with the boys.”
Logan Saloman, who will be heading to Arizona State for the next level of play, feels the same way.
“No doubt the competition and playing with all my boys,” Saloman said. “Getting more time with them, it’ll be a whole new level that I’ve never had before. It’ll be really fun.”
Both hope leave their mark on Hamilton’s baseball legacy. Woods believes the competition will be stronger than what they typically face and looks forward to an opportunity that will help them prepare for postseason play.
“It gets us out of our comfort zone,” Woods said. “We’re going to see better pitching usually. Our pitchers are going to have to, well everyone is going to have to up their games. It’s a really nice simulation for a state tournament and playoff baseball. Not to mention, just a great experience for the kids.”