LOS ANGELES — Since the summer going into his freshman year at Huntington Beach High, Hagen Danner has waited for Saturday, a chance to play baseball at UCLA. Back then, at age 14, he committed to the Bruins in the summer of 2013, the year they won the College World Series for the first time.
If Danner never plays for the Bruins, he can at least say he took the mound on the field where UCLA plays its home games.
Danner most likely made his only appearance at Jackie Robinson Stadium. Many project Danner to go in the first round of next month’s Major League Baseball Draft, and the senior showed why in the Boras Classic state tournament final.
There were probably more radar guns behind home plate than on the freeways in Los Angeles. Major league scouts came to watch Danner throw against San Jose Bellarmine Prep, the tournament’s North champion.
The right-hander had a no-hitter going in the seventh inning. All season, Danner has had a pitch count of 80. There was no way he was coming out of this one.
But after striking out the leadoff batter in the top of the seventh, giving him six strikeouts, Danner lost the no-no, then the shutout. He stayed in anyway, getting the final two outs in the Oilers’ 4-1 win.
Danner wound up giving up two more hits after Todd Jackson broke up the no-hitter, yet he stayed perfect on the mound this year. The way Danner’s 10th win ended was fitting to Huntington Beach Coach Benji Medure because Danner demonstrated how well he could play defense, too.
When he’s not pitching, Danner is catching for the Oilers. This time, Danner’s catcher helped him get the last out.
Bellarmine Prep (20-7) had runners on the corners and the possible game-tying run at the plate. Danner’s first pitch got away from catcher Nick Lopez. The runner from third took off for home, and Danner raced to the plate to cover it. Lopez fired the ball to Danner, who tagged the runner out, ensuring the Oilers (25-3), the South tournament winners, claimed the Boras Classic state title for the first time.
“He was Johnny-on-the-spot right there,” Medure said of Danner. “The fist pump at the end really got me. That’s him competing.”
A celebration ensued, and it looked a lot like how a college baseball team would have fun after winning a tournament. There was a dog pile near the mound.
As for whether Danner will get to experience something similar to that with UCLA, he smiled and preferred not to comment when asked if his outing would be his lone one at Jackie Robinson Stadium.
“This place is awesome,” Danner said of UCLA. “That’s why I committed here. That’s why I signed here.”
Danner turned in a strong performance at Jackie Robinson Stadium. He was two outs away from recording his first no-hitter.
Eighty-eight pitches are how many he threw. Most came in the first inning, when Danner struggled a little bit with his command.
He walked two batters in the first inning, and those same two moved into scoring position on a couple of miscues. One pitch got past Lopez, and then Lopez tried to pick off a runner at first base, firing an errant throw into left field.
Danner did not flinch. He could have three pitches later, as Wes Harper hit a sharp comebacker to the mound. A calm Danner fielded it cleanly and threw to first to get out of the jam.
Danner settled down after a 20-pitch first inning. He retired the side in order in the second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth innings.
The defense saved Danner from giving up his first hit in the fourth. Three times the Oilers robbed Bellarmine Prep of hits. The first one involved second baseman Cole Minato, who fielded a slow roller to his right and got the runner at first. Then shortstop Trevor Windisch had to get down to his left to stop a hard-hit grounder, before throwing to first. Three pitches later, Cory Moore made a diving catch in left field.
“At the beginning of the game, I didn’t have my stuff, and I knew that,” Danner said. “I was just trying to make them hit the ball. We got the best defense in the nation.”
Huntington Beach also has the best team in the country.
The Oilers, ranked No. 1 in the nation by PerfectGame.org, scored first in the fourth inning. Windisch’s sacrifice fly to left field scored pinch-runner Nate Madole.
The big inning for Huntington Beach came in the three-run fifth. Justin Cianca, who went two for three, led off with a double to left-center off Harper. The right-handed starter got into trouble by walking Ben McConnell, who got on base three times, with a single and two walks.
Three pitches later, another Huntington Beach senior many expect to forgo college and go in the first round of the draft next month, came through. USC signee Nick Pratto knocked a double into right-center field, driving in two runs. The Oilers went ahead, 4-0, on Windisch’s single near the left-field line, giving him his second run batted in.
The support was more than enough for Danner. At one point, he retired 17 in a row.
“Going against a guy that’s as good as he is, you have to get a few breaks,” Bellarmine Prep Coach Mike Rodriguez said.
The Oilers don’t plan to take it easy with two games left in Sunset League play next week.
Even though it clinched the outright league title on Wednesday, outlasting Marina, 2-0, in 11 innings, Huntington Beach wants to stay sharp. The next crown the Oilers are aiming for is in the upcoming CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs.
“We want to go into the playoffs with momentum,” said Medure, whose Oilers play last-place Newport Harbor on Tuesday and Thursday, and they find out on May 15 who they open with in the postseason. “We’re not going to let up and rest people. We’re going to get after it next week.”
Boras Classic State final
Huntington Beach 4, Bellarmine Prep 1
Bellarmine Prep 000 000 1 – 1 3 0
Huntington Beach 000 130 x – 4 6 1
Harper, Ragen (5), Mekechuk (6) and Jackson; Danner and Ortiz. W – Danner, 10-0. L – Harper, 5-3. 2B – Cianca (HB), Pratto (HB).