May 28th, 2012
Defense Key As St. Xavier Eliminates Trinity
Tigers shut out Shamrocks 7-0 in regional quarterfinals
It was more than appropriate that Monday's 7th Region Tournament quarterfinal baseball game between rivals St. Xavier and Trinity ended on a double play.
In a contest that saw diving stops at first base by Andrew Willinger, a charging grab by Andrew McCormick in right field and the middle infield combo of Austin Clemons and Nate Stemle earning putouts on all five groundballs they fielded, it was a 2nd straight, inning-ending 5-4-3 around the horn double play that finished off the Tigers' 7-0 victory over the Shamrocks at Southern High School.
St. X hurler Colin McFarland was able to throw with confidence with the gloves working hard behind him and the Tigers senior earned the win with six shoutout innings against a Trinity team that topped St. Xavier 3-0 three weeks ago at Louisville Slugger Field.
McFarland struck out four, scattered three hits and only got in trouble once in the 6th inning when the Rocks put runners on 1st and 2nd with just one out. But that threat would be quickly erased by an Alex Mercer to Clemons to Willinger double play to get McFarland out of a jam.
"All year long it's been pitching and defense, pitching and defense. And when Colin gets ahead in the count and lets the defense do the work, that's the key for him" said St. X head coach Andy Porta of McFarland. "And he's finally healthy. He's not able to run for us yet, so we've got to DH for him. But pitching-wise he's finally back to where he was about three weeks ago."
Willinger led St. X offensively with 2 hits and 3 RBIs, including a solo home run over the left field fence that put the Tigers ahead 7-0 in the top of the 7th inning. Sophomore Clemons was 2-for-2 at the dish with a walk, run, RBI and stolen base to go along with his consistent play at second base on defense.
The Tigers got on the board behind Zach Montgomery's two-out RBI single in the 2nd inning before exploding for three more runs in the 3rd inning when St. X seemed to rattle Trinity senior southpaw Austin Warner, the pitcher who baffled the Tigers during the Rocks' 3-0 win on May 3.
"That first run was huge and then after that it was like, 'OK, it's hot outside....let's make him work'," said Porta. "But that first run, after being shut out the last time, sends a message and then our guys were able to take a deep breath, relax and go from there. We were pretty relaxed to begin with, but once you put a run on the board that's awful nice."
In the third inning, Stemle led off with a single, senior Jake Johnson was hit by a pitch and Clemons sacrificed them to 2nd and 3rd. Willinger followed up with a run-scoring single through the left side, Josh Osbourne picked up an RBI on a deep SAC fly to centerfield and McCormick reached on an error by the Trinity shortstop to abruptly put St. X ahead 4-0.
"We had a different approach today," said Porta. "The last time against the Warner kid, we had a lot of fly balls and swung at a lot of balls up in the zone. Today, we said we were just going to look at the bottom half of the strike zone - if it's there, put it in play, put on the ground and good things happen. It was a much better approach this time around."
Warner settled down and retired the side in order in the 4th, but was already up over 70 pitches by that point. Osbourne singled home Clemons for a 5-0 St. Xavier lead in the top of the 5th, and the Tigers tacked on two more distancing runs in the 7th and final inning on a line drive RBI single by Clemons and the aforementioned Willinger solo blast.
St. Xavier's Jack Cleary closed out at the game in the 7th after coming on in relief of McFarland. He gave up one hit, but was able to get the ground ball that eventually turned into a game-ending double play.
"When the (regional tournament) draw happened, I wanted Trinity or Eastern (in the quarterfinals) because I knew we'd be fired up. We lost to both those guys and I knew we wouldn't have to do or say anything to the kids. They'd be ready to go," said Porta. "And they were. Give them credit. It was all the kids."
"They are just fired up. We've been kind of up and down the last two weeks or so, but they're ready to get on a run. They really are," Porta continued when speaking about his squad "We've got a nucleus of guys that went to Lexington last year (for the state tournament), we've got some youth that are so, so talented. It's a real good mix of kids."
Warner, who will pitch at Bellarmine University next season, was eventually replaced by junior Grant Rohlender in the top of the 6th after giving up 7 hits, 3 earned runs and a walk during five innings pitched against rival St. Xavier. Rohlender struck out two and gave up 2 runs during his 2 innings of relief.
The Rocks had four hits at the plate, all by different players. Jonah Liebman, Brandon Pitman, Brady Pfaddt and Branden Wesley were responsible for the base knocks. Liebman's double in the bottom of the 6th inning was Trinity's first base runner to get past first base.
The 7th Region Tournament quarterfinal between St. X and Trinity began at 9am in an effort to beat some of the extremely high temperatures that were in the afternoon forecast. Porta said the early start didn't bother his team.
"We talked about it last week and had batting practice at 7am," said Porta. "I told the guys that it's just like you're coming in for school. The only difference is instead of hanging out in the locker room in the morning and going to class, you're going to take BP on the field. It wasn't a big deal at all."
Despite Monday's defeat, Trinity won 7 of its final 10 games to end the season and reached the 20-win mark after losing 8 of its first 11 games to begin the 2012 campaign. The Rocks' season comes to an end following a 27th District Championship and a 20-19 record.
St. Xavier (27-11) advances to Tuesday's 7th Region semifinals and will face Kentucky Country Day (24-9) at UofL's Jim Patterson Staidum at 5pm. The Tigers and Bearcats did not play each other this season and the programs have not met in over 10 years.