Carl Albert's Gavin LaValley hardly new anyone last year when he played in the Heartland Classic.
In this year's tournament, which begins Tuesday at three sites, there's hardly anyone on Team Oklahoma that the corner infielder doesn't know. Justin McGregor and Stevie Thompson, both juniors like LaValley and both Titans as well, made the team.
“It was a lot of fun but I didn't know many of the guys,” LaValley said. “This year, if I'm playing first and Justin's playing third, we played with each other every day.”
It's not just McGregor and Thompson, though. LaValley has played with Edmond Santa Fe's Quin Walbergh, Red Oak's Dylan Fazekas and several other teammates.
For McGregor, playing in the tournament formerly known as the Sunbelt Classic is a chance to continue the progress he made during his junior season.
Coming off Tommy John surgery the year before, McGregor was the Titans' closer, allowing no runs in 9 2/3 innings while also hitting .369 and driving in 41 runs, helping Carl Albert to a second consecutive Class 5A title.
“I'm hoping to be one of the starters next season,” McGregor said of his hope to move into the rotation. “Everything to this point has just been getting stronger and I finally feel like I'm back to 100 percent. It's just one of those things that you just have to trust that the surgery was successful.”
For LaValley, he hopes playing in the tournament is a chance to see some hittable pitches.
He played in last week's Junior Sunbelt and saw one inside pitch.
“I hit it out and I didn't get another one,” LaValley said. “Not getting my favorite pitches, yeah, it's frustrating. I don't like it but I've got to adjust to what they give me. I can't really do much about it.”
LaValley did a good job of that in the spring, hitting .477 with 20 home runs and 76 RBIs. More than half of his home runs went to the opposite field.
The tournament could also be a chance for LaValley to play with a future teammate. Southmoore's Tre Edwards has signed with Arkansas. LaValley committed to the Razorbacks early in the spring.
“I went to some of their games and just the fan base and how much the people love baseball there drew me to it,” LaValley said. “I like the atmosphere there and the facilities that they have.”
There's a chance, though, that LaValley might never play a game in Fayetteville.
LaValley figures to be one of the top state high schoolers, possibly the top, taken in next summer's Major League Baseball Draft.
“If the draft doesn't work out, I can always go to college,” he said. “But if I get drafted high, it would be a dream come true. It's an honor just to have a chance at that.”
The roster for Oklahoma's Heartland Classic team
Blake Battenfield, RHP, Verdigris
Garrett Benge, RHP/3B, Yukon
James Bowker, C/RHP Plainview
Austin Cranford, RHP, Norman North
Tre Edwards, INF, Southmoore
Dylan Fazekas, RHP/1B/3B, Red Oak
Austin Feathers, INF, Sapulpa
Isaac Hollihan, OF, Claremore
Gavin LaValley, 1B, Carl Albert
Holden Lyons, RHP, Edmond North
Justin McGregor, RHP/SS, Carl Albert
Garrett Odom, OF, Tulsa Union
Jon Pendergraft, LHP/1B, Tulsa Union
Parker Rigler, LHP, Edmond Memorial
Stevie Thompson, OF, Carl Albert
Gage Trahan, LHP/OF, Tecumseh
Quin Walbergh, INF, Edmond Santa Fe
Matt Whatley, C, Claremore.
Heartland Classic Schedule
Oklahoma vs. Maryland, 3:30 p.m.
Oklahoma vs. Ohio, 7 p.m.
At Norman North
Ohio vs. Colorado, 3:30 p.m.
Maryland vs. Georgia, 7 p.m.
Georgia vs. Texas, noon
Texas vs. Arkansas, 3:30 p.m.
Colorado vs. Arkansas, 7 p.m.
Colorado vs. Georgia, 11 a.m.
Arkansas vs. Maryland, 2:30 p.m.
At Norman North
Maryland vs. Texas, 10 a.m.
Texas vs. Ohio, 1 p.m.
Ohio vs. Georgia, 4 p.m.
Arkansas vs. Oklahoma, 11 a.m.
Oklahoma vs. Colorado, 2:30 p.m.
Colorado vs. Texas, 12:30 p.m.
Arkansas vs. Ohio, 4 p.m.
At Norman North
Georgia vs. Arkansas, noon
Georgia vs. Oklahoma, 3:30 p.m.
Ohio vs. Maryland, 12:30 p.m.
Maryland vs. Colorado, 4 p.m.
Game 1: Second place vs. Seventh place, 3:30 p.m. at Norman
Game 2: Third place vs. Sixth place, 3:30 p.m. at Norman North
Game 3: Fourth place vs. Fifth place, 3:30 p.m. at Southmoore
Game 4: First place vs. Game 3 winner, 7 p.m. at Southmoore
Game 5: Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 7 p.m. at Norman North
Game 6: Game 4 loser vs. Game 5 loser, noon
Game 7: Game 4 winner vs. Game 5 winner, 3:30 p.m.