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Hagen Danner, Nick Pratto continue to deliver in pressure situations

Eric Sondheimer
Contact ReporterVarsity Times Insider

Moments after Huntington Beach defeated rival Edison, 1-0, at Angel Stadium last month, Hagen Danner pulled out his smartphone near the visiting dugout and started to FaceTime with a former teammate. He grabbed pitcher Nick Pratto, and the two smiled and laughed while letting their friend know baseball is pretty fun these days.

“They’re two grounded kids,” Huntington Beach Coach Benji Medure said. “I told them, ‘I can’t imagine being an 18-year-old kid and dealing with what you two deal with.’ I’m impressed with their maturity and how humble they are.”

Danner, a pitcher-catcher who signed with UCLA, and Pratto, a pitcher-outfielder who signed with USC, could be first-round draft picks in June. They’ve been handling cameras, reporters and expectations ever since they helped Ocean View Little League defeat Japan, 2-1, in the 2011 Little League championship game. Then they won a gold medal playing for the USA 18U national team in 2016.

Because of their experiences growing up, there’s probably no two high school athletes in Southern California better able to handle pressure situations.

“Being able to play in pressure situations now is pretty easy for us,” Danner said. “We kind of get after it and play the game for fun.”

Said Pratto: “It’s a mindset when you come out for these big games, big events. It’s the same game, whether you’re at Angel Stadium or back home in Huntington Beach.”

The right-handed Danner has a 96-mph fastball. Pitching is his strength, though he also is an effective high school hitter. He’s the catcher whenever the left-handed Pratto is pitching. Pratto is creating genuine debate among scouts whether he’s a better pitcher or hitter. He’s that versatile and valuable. It will be up to the pro scouts to make a final determination.

This season, Danner is 6-0 with a 1.12 ERA and is batting .468 with seven home runs. Pratto is 2-1 with a 1.32 ERA and is hitting .342 with six home runs.

“The whole team is feeding off them,” Medure said. “Nick and Hagen have taken on the challenge of being leaders on this team and trying to lead by example.”

Whether it’s hitting a home run or making precision pitches coming in at more than 90 mph, the two know how to deliver in a big way.

“Every day, they do something different that amazes us, mostly at BP or defensively or on the mound,” Medure said. “It’s amazing some of the things they can do.”

Huntington Beach (15-3) is one of the 16 teams playing this week in the Boras Classic at JSerra and Santa Ana Mater Dei. The Oilers open on Tuesday against La Verne Damien at noon at Mater Dei. Twelve of the participating teams are in The Times’ top 25 rankings.

Medure has been trying to keep both star pitchers fresh by limiting their pitch counts to no more than 70 each start. The two figure to be an imposing mound duo for the Southern Section Division 1 playoffs. They also know their time together may be coming to an end.

“Playing with Hagen is like playing with a brother,” Pratto said. “This is our last year possibly playing with each other. You kind of have to cherish it.”

Said Danner: “Catching him, I’ve done it since I was 7 years old.”

Added Pratto: “This is an exciting year for many reasons. It’s just fun to be out here.”

And it’s a year Huntington Beach fans won’t soon forget, because seemingly every game, Pratto or Danner find a way to leave a lasting impression.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

Twitter: latsondheimer

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