Tiger Baseball Primed for another Stellar Season
Saint Xavier Baseball finished an outstanding 2012-2013 season with a school record 34 victories and a second consecutive regional championship. Its season ended with a loss to eventual state champion Pleasure Ridge Park, but the Tigers are once again chomping at the bit to begin another run bound for Lexington.
The Tigers lose a lot of production due to graduation that will be tough to fill. However, although there might not be a star at every position, Head Coach Andy Porta articulated that this year’s team definitely has one thing going for them: depth.
“The interesting thing about this bunch right now is we are deep. They know, and we’ve talked about it all preseason; there’s that good competition for playing time. Guys are pushing each other everyday in practice. It’s wide open.”
A starting rotation losing the likes of Sam Melchior, Ben Britt, and Jack Cleary all at the same time might be in trouble for the upcoming season. But St. Xavier’s starting rotation isn’t your typical starting rotation, according to coach Porta.
“The pitching staff is probably going to be deeper than last year. You might say they are unproven, young, but I think you have to start with the three seniors we have: Connor Underwood, Robby Skarvan, and Miles Lee. We have some fantastic arms in the junior class, guys like Cameron Revelette and J.D. Mundt. It starts and ends with pitching. We lost a lot, but I think we’ve reloaded well.”
Many Tiger fans may be asking themselves where junior Grant Wessling comes into the equation on the mound; many might remember his amazing entrance onto the varsity stage last season as a sophomore, when he went the distance in a huge district matchup against Male, only allowing one run to cross the plate and picking up the win. From there, Wessling was huge for St. X down the stretch, and he finished a fantastic sophomore season ready to become one of the states most feared arms.
However, early in the offseason, doctors found Wessling had a partially torn rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder that required surgery. Coach Porta said that he will could be back on the mound late in the season, and if that were to happen, it would only be “icing on the cake.”
Although the pitching staff may have something to prove, unproven would be the last word used to describe the lineup. The Tiger order features speed at the top with players like Trace Amshoff and Tristan Purcell, and a wealth of power in the middle of the order. In some sequence, opposing pitchers will have to face mashers Josh Osborne, Hayden Ford, Sam Springer, and Austin Clemons. The middle of that order is downright scary.
Clemons gained viewers from all over the state last season when he batted over .500 and consistently drove in runs. Now in his senior year, he is a leading candidate for Kentucky Mr. Baseball. Coaching the team’s best player comes with an added bonus in this situation, says Porta.
“He’s got all the accolades, fantastic sophomore and junior numbers, but the best thing about Austin Clemons is he’s our hardest worker. As a coach, good things can happen when your best player is your hardest worker. When Austin Clemons is out there, he is not only pushing himself, but others guys around him.”
Porta also added that an underrated trait of Clemons’ game is his versatility.
“Austin can play anything for us. He can play short, he can play second, he can play third, he can catch. We’ve even joked around that he could pitch for us. The numbers speak for themselves; I think he is going to have another fantastic year.”
This offense has college speed, power, and defense as well. Many fans crisply remember Lee’s diving nab in left field to save the day for the Tigers in the Regional Championship against Male. Last year’s shortstop, Nate Stemle, is now at Kentucky Wesleyan, but coach Porta doesn’t believe there will be any problems replacing on of the state’s best defensive infielders.
“There’s probably four guys who could play shortstop for us right now. There’s probably five guys who could play third for us right now. There’s another four guys who can play second base for us.”
Another great crop of seniors will play a huge role in the Tigers quest for a third straight regional title and another trip to Lexington. Clemons recognizes the importance of the seniors this year.
“As senior leaders, we will need to help the juniors that have not been around the varsity team and show them how to handle the pressure that comes in late game situations.”
Lee also stresses setting an example, both verbally and with actions. “We need to set an example to show what is expected and how we can achieve our goals.”
The Tigers are stacked with talent and experience, and they have as good a chance as ever to capture the program’s first State Championship in 32 years. Regardless of talent, though, coach Porta doesn’t think it’s championship or bust this season.
“First and foremost, we teach them to be great teammates and people, teach them to be men for others. Yeah, we want a State Championship; that’s our goal every season. Is it going to be State Championship or bust? No; life goes on.”
This team is as good as any in recent memory at St. X. Regardless of the success the team enjoys this season, fans can expect one thing for sure: Another special season with an excellent group of guys.