The Whitewater Wildcats, seen here during last spring’s playoff run, have been selected for the USA Baseball High School Invitational. The prestigious event brings together 16 top baseball teams from around the country this March. (Photo by Georgia Bennett)

Whitewater High School baseball has earned a lot of accolades with their success in recent years. It wasn’t just others around the state that took notice either. Fresh off their state runner-up finish last year, the Wildcats have been selected as one of 16 top teams from around the country for the Fourth Annual USA Baseball National High School Invitational. It will be held March 25 through 28 at the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, NC. It’s quite the prestigious achievement for Whitewater.

“It’s the premier tournament on the calendar, really. You’re bringing in 16 of the top programs from around the country,” said Rusty Bennett, coach of the Whitewater baseball team. “It gives us the chance to put Whitewater on the national level. There will be scouts there from colleges and the pros. It’s a good chance to expose our program and expose our kids at the same time.”

The exposure will also shine a light on the rising quality of play in the area.

“It’s not only good for Whitewater, it’s good for Fayette County (as a whole) because baseball down here is dominant. It gives us a chance to go up there and market Whitewater baseball and market our area,” Bennett said. “Baseball has changed. That’s all these kids do year-round now. It’s going to give us an opportunity to show how far we’ve grown in the county.”

The event will be a major test for the team, and it’s one they look forward to. It comes in the middle of the schedule, right before region play really heats up.

“You’re going to see some kids out there that are phenomenal players. You’re going to see some teams that are really good. It’s going to give our kids a chance to get out there and show what they can do at the same time competing against a high level of competition,” said Bennett. “If we’re playing well, we can use that to prepare and maybe help us in the state playoffs.”

The Wildcats know they’ll need those games to gear up for a tough new region. They’re dropping down a classification to AAAA, but their new schedule does them no favors.

“This region is tough. It’s about as tough as you can get. We’re coming down a classification, but we’re actually coming down to a very hard classification,” said Bennett. Their region will be especially challenging. “We’ve got the reigning state champ in Carrollton. Woodward is always strong. Fayette and Sandy Creek are improving year after year, so they’re going to have something to say about it. We’ve got our work cut out for us region-wise.”

Luckily for the Wildcats, they return a big chunk of last year’s runner-up squad, including seven starters and 15 total players.

“We lost some real good players, but we return some key players that helped trigger last year’s run,” said Bennett. “We have a chance to make another run, but, at the same time, we’ve got to put in the work. It’s not going to be handed to us.”

The Wildcats will get to work soon. January 19 is the first day of tryouts for the Cats, and they’ll hit the diamond for their first game on February 16.