June 6th, 2018

St. X baseball ready for showdown with PRP

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Conor Revell

Managing Editor

St. X baseball ready for showdown with PRP
The Tigers with the Seventh Region title trophy / photo by Conor Revell

Four more.

Four more to win title No. 8.

Four more to do a dogpile on the pitcher mound.

It’s that simple for St. Xavier’s baseball team.

There’s one goal and that’s to win a state championship.

But, the Tigers (33-2) must remember to take one game at a time, Pleasure Ridge Park (28-6), last year’s defending state champ, and awaits them in the first round of the Whitaker Bank/KHSAA State Baseball Tournament.

“You have to limit the damage when you play PRP,” St. X head coach Andy Porta. “It’s nice to keep the leadoff batter off base because they’re going to try to bunt or hit and run. We say this all the time, if you make a mistake, you have to limit it to one and not let it snowball into three and four mistakes in a row.”

The two played last month in a strange game that many will toss out despite St. X winning 17-5 due to scoring 12 of those runs in the final two innings to break a tie.

Evan Burnett (1.50 ERA, 42 IP, 36 Ks), Brycen Harkins (2.39 ERA, 38 IP, 26 Ks), and Andrew Littlefield (1.24 ERA, 45 IP, 35 Ks) will led the Tigers on the mound.

“I think we are going to have to attack with the fastballs early,” Burnett said. “We have to keep them off balance. Work hard to keep the ball low. Stay ahead of the batter, if you get behind you have to throw some tough pitches.”

Shortstop Trey Sweeney (.379, 2 HRs, 34 RBIs) is St. X’s glue on the field and at the plate and will be a calming influence if times get tough.

“I think it’s big that we have the experience playing in big games,” Sweeney said. “We get to play Trinity at U of L or Slugger Field every year. The experience with big crowds help us. Some of the smaller schools may feel pressure and nervous.”

The senior can do it all, he’s also their top closer and had three saves during the regular season with a 1.56 ERA in nine innings pitched.

“Our pitchers are going to have to tune out the crowd,” Porta said. “I hope it’s a big, huge crowd. You have to tune that out and throw your game and command the strike zone. Hopefully throw a lot of first pitch strikes and get the leadoff batters out. If you don’t do that then handle the adversity and try to get a strikeout or groundout.”

But, bringing home a banner takes a team.

“We are going to have to take it one pitch at a time,” St. X catcher Cam Scheler said. “If the game speeds up, we have to slow it down, and keep our pitchers calm, relaxed and help them hit their spots.”

Aric Lyons (.345, 3 HRs, 22 RBIs), Alex Adams (.284, 2 HRs, 21 RBIs), Scheler (.280, 1 HR, 26 RBIs), Littlefield (.371, 20 RBIs) and Harkins (.353, 14 RBIs) will also play key roles the plate for the Tigers.

PRP brings back everybody from last year’s state title team.

“The keys for our team are pitching and defense,” PRP head coach Richard Hawks said. “We have hung our hat on that all season. We don't have to play a perfect game, but we have to play a regular PRP game. Our seniors need to step up and be the leaders that they've been all year.”

PRP has a wealth of talent on the hill and will be led by pitchers Garrett Schmeltz (1.45 ERA, 58 IP, 114 Ks), Dallas Glass (1.28 ERA, 60 IP, 78 Ks), and David Aguilar (2.08 ERA, 37 IP, 27 BBs).  

“Their kids have velocity, they throw hard,” Porta said. “They have nice off speed stuff too. Once they get ahead in the count they have a nice curveballs, changeups, and sliders. Glass and Schmeltz are bringing the heat. We have to make sure that we don’t swing at anything above the belt. You can’t be anxious. Schmeltz’s fastball looks good and all of a sudden it rises.”

Noah MacDonald (.547, 1 HR, 35 RBIs), Jalil Akbar (.394, 26 RBIs), Reed Blaszczyk (.424, 1 HR, 29 RBIs), and Nick Rucker (.500, 3 HRs. 46 RBIs) are the Panthers top hitters.

“We are going to have to keep those guys off balance,” Burnett said. “The big thing about PRP is you have to throw the ball low. If we get behind in the count against them, we could run into trouble.”

While everybody is going to talk pitching and hitting, defense wins championships.

“Defensively we have to make the routine plays,” Porta said. “If you make some great ones along the way that’s the icing on the cake but you have to make the routine plays. If you don’t, you have to make the next routine play. You can’t turn a bobble into frustration for the rest of the inning. I’ll take all routine plays and if we don’t make the spectacular play, I like our chances.”

It’s the game everybody has been waiting for since the draw was announced the day after the regular season matchup.

“We are going to get the bats going early,” Scheler said. “If we can attack PRP early, I think that’s a big thing. Momentum is huge in the postseason. It’s baseball and if we are away and we can score first, that’s bigtime.”

The winner will most certainly become the favorite to win it all and these two programs have won four of the last five state championships.

“I think it’s big to have experience,” Porta said. “Everybody is going to be nervous. A lot of my guys were in the dugout in 2016 and the quicker you can get over those nerves and settle down, the better off you will be. That’s what makes the difference.”

First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday.


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