They have got a Heisman Lane at Santa Ana Mater Dei in celebration of its quarterbacks, and it’s time a Shortstop Boulevard went up to honor the school’s growing list of elite shortstops.
From Sergio Santos to Danny Espinosa, from Tyler Rahmatulla to junior Derek Campbell, it’s becoming apparent that to play shortstop at Mater Dei, you better be a professional prospect.
Campbell has taken over as the starter this season from Rahmatulla (a freshman at UCLA), and whether throwing frozen ropes to first base, delivering impact home runs (he has five) or running the bases, he continues to dazzle every time he’s on the field.
He also has added a leadership element to his game, having learned lessons from watching quarterback Matt Barkley last season when he played receiver for the football team.
“I was close to Matt, and he taught me a lot about leading by example,” Campbell said.
On Thursday night, under the lights at Cal State Fullerton, the championship game of the Anderson Bat National Classic was more than just for bragging rights in Orange County. Mater Dei (16-2), ranked No. 1 in Southern Section Division I, and Lake Forest El Toro (15-3), ranked No. 2 in Division II, got to test themselves in a pressure atmosphere similar to what they might experience in a section final at Angel Stadium.
Even though it was the fourth game in four days for both schools, the so-called backup pitchers were sensational. T.J. Kendzora of El Toro struck out eight and gave up three hits in 6 2/3 innings. Ruben Orosco of Mater Dei struck out seven and gave up three hits in six innings.
In the end, Mater Dei pulled out a 2-1 victory on the strength of a two-run, first-inning home run by tournament most valuable player Brian Frattali. Matt Blanchard got the save with a scoreless seventh.
Campbell made the all-tournament team, and expect lots more recognition to come.
Oklahoma State, UCLA, USC and Fullerton are starting to make recruiting pitches to Campbell, who’s giving up football to focus full time on baseball.
“He’s playing well offensively and defensively,” Coach Burt Call said. “His game has improved.”
A year ago, he was the team’s second baseman, waiting for his turn at shortstop.
“It’s kind of nice coming back to shortstop,” he said. “I feel more comfortable.”
There were other revelations coming from the National Classic this week besides how good Campbell is.
El Toro senior shortstop Nolan Arenado, headed to Arizona State, turned in one of the most gutsy individual performances when he threw a complete-game victory Wednesday night, striking out seven in a 10-1 win over Wellington (Fla.) Palm Beach Central.
Arenado had not thrown a single pitch all season.
“He did a phenomenal job,” Coach Mike Gonzales said.
You could see in Arenado’s body language that he wanted to succeed for his El Toro teammates.
“He’s a big, physical kid and loves to play the game,” Gonzales said. “He has the ability to make other players around him better.”
He helped El Toro win the Division II championship last season. He’s 6 feet 2, 210 pounds and looks as unbreakable as a rock. He was selected the outstanding offensive player in the National Classic. For a team to topple the Chargers in the playoffs, Arenado must falter, and it’s just not going to happen. He’s batting close to .500 this season.
Then there’s Matt Hobgood of Norco. Simply put, Hobgood fits the profile of a future first-round draft choice.
As a pitcher, he has given up one earned run in 36 innings, striking out 52 with only 11 walks. As a hitter, he’s batting .519 with nine home runs and 28 runs batted in. He’s 6-4, weighs 250 pounds and has surprising speed considering the way he ran the bases to score from second on a single earlier this week.
“I think I’m pretty athletic for my size,” he said. “During the off-season, I tried to get into better shape.”
Every time he takes a swing or makes a pitch, he’s being watched by professional scouts, and he seems to be having fun.
“It’s an honor all these scouts are out here watching me,” he said.
Embracing the scouts instead of worrying about them is the way to handle the pressure, and Hobgood continues to show why he’s the best player in Southern California.