When Saint Xavier Baseball takes on Bishop Brossart at 5 p.m. today, it will be in unfamiliar territory. The Tigers will be the defending State Champions for the first time in 33 years. It’s a long season, but there is something to being that team with a target on its back; there will be high expectations, but without a doubt, the 2015 St. X Baseball team has the firepower to answer the bell. It will be interesting to see how the club treats its new identity, but one thing is for certain: There will be plenty of eyes on the Tigers.
As crazy as it might sound, this year’s squad might be better than last year’s. Much like last year’s team, the calling card for this group is depth, and it boasts a whole lot of it. The pitching staff is insane, and while the Tigers lost a lot of offensive production to graduation, there is a ton of optimism that the bats will be ready to deliver when needed.
What sticks out most about this team is the pitching. St. X returns Cam Revelette, J.D. Mundt, Grant Wessling and Scott Spurlock as seniors. All four of those guys were on the mound as either starters or relievers in the State Tournament. When you add excellent juniors Adam Elliott, Alex Hood, Daniel Fischer and Brian O’Neil, this staff has unreal depth and talent.
Revelette will be the ace on this staff, but the rotation will be filthy regardless of who is on the bump. Even sophomore Jack Biernesser will most likely get some varsity innings. The bottom line: St. X pitching has quantity and quality.
“Our pitching coach, Coach Scheer, says if we score 4 runs a game we won’t lose because of our pitching staff,” Wessling explains. “Adam Elliott and Daniel Fischer are some solid, hard-throwing juniors, and Scott Spurlock will be a good closer. He’s got nasty stuff.”
Even with all the talented arms on the mound, senior third baseman Brandon Blaser warns that the bats will be just as potent, if not more. That proposition is downright scary.
“Our pitching is deep, but we can hit the ball, too,” Blaser says. “Our seniors will step up and make a huge impact swinging the bats. Our offense will be the strength of the team this year.”
The infield will feature two anchors in Blaser at third base and senior shortstop Avery Lane who started on last season’s championship team. Defensively, both of these guys are top-of-the-line. They both have rocket arms that make difficult plays look easy, in addition to fantastic range. Not many liners or grounders are going to get through the left side of the infield against St. X this season.
You can’t sleep on Blaser or Lane in the batter’s box, either. After replacing then-senior stud Austin Clemons at shortstop after Clemons suffered an ACL injury, Lane finished third on the team in batting average with a blistering .351/.383/.373 line. Blaser finished second on the team with 8 doubles, but even his extra base hit numbers don’t tell the story with this guy. When Blaser hits a ball, he smokes it. Last season, it seemed like almost every ball he got his bat on was an absolute rocket. He has to be considered one of the most feared batters in the state for what he can do inside the park; he’s not going to put five balls over the fences this season (although I wouldn’t put it past him), but he will send lasers to almost every spot inside those fences, so expect a healthy amount of two and three baggers from Blaser.
For all that, Blaser probably isn’t even the biggest bat in the lineup. That title will probably be senior catcher/first baseman Josh Finerty. He’s a big, imposing figure in the box who has great bat speed and amazing strength. He led the team in doubles last season with 9 and also drove in 18 runs. He hits for power and average, having posted a healthy .337 average last season.
Senior outfielder Aaron Grammer is another bat to watch. While he didn’t start many games last season, he pinch hit in several high-pressure moments in the State Tournament last year and got hits in every single instance, including a pinch-hit single to start the rally that won the Tigers the state title 5-2 over Simon Kenton. He will be a middle-of-the-order masher that will most likely go yard a few times this year.
Want a few newcomers to keep an eye on? Make sure to follow junior outfielder Kurt Ramser and junior second baseman Casey Simon. Ramser brings power to the lineup, while Simon is a wizard defensively.
As a team, the players know the most important ingredient to success is chemistry; it’s what broke a 33-year drought last year, and if the Tigers are to repeat, it will be because of chemistry.
“We are a close group,” Wessling says. “We haven’t had any games yet, but it will be interesting to see if we can play together like a solid team. If we do, it could be fun to watch.”
Being the defending champs helps with that cohesion. Blaser says even with the added pressure, he enjoys playing with that target on his team’s back.
“We worked hard in the offseason to compete for another state title,” he says. “We approach practice everyday with a good work ethic and a positive mindset. If we focus on the little details, everything will play out in the games.”
At the end of the day, there is a lot of baseball to be played before St. X thinks about a repeat. But Wessling knows it’s possible.
“We don’t want to look too far ahead, but we think we can [repeat],” he explains. “We for sure have the pitching, and that’s important in the tournaments. The bats need to stay consistent and defense remain error free, and we can definitely do that”
Saint Xavier High School did not take home the soccer state championship last season after capturing back-to-back titles the previous two seasons.
However, that may not necessarily be a bad thing. This year’s group of Tigers are hungrier than ever to reclaim their spot atop the mountain.
St. X loses 12 seniors from last season’s team, including prolific strikers Joe Workman and Jack Somervell along with a premier goalkeeper in Wes Luvisi. Although the Tigers lose a lot of talent from graduation, they still have a lot of skill and ability to work with.
“We still have a lot to work on, but we have the potential to make a run in the (state) tournament this year,” says senior striker Klayton Grimes. “We don’t have any star players. We are just a solid team.”
It will be up to Grimes and fellow senior striker Dean Mock to replace the production of Workman and Somervell. Workman led the team in goals during both his junior and senior seasons, and it will be very interesting to see if Mock and Grimes can fill the large shoes of the departed seniors.
The state of affairs in the midfield is perhaps the most exciting part of this year’s Tigers. Wizard midfielders Bobby Buse and Matt “Kid” Effinger are no longer a part of the squad, but there are plenty of promising Tigers to make up for the losses. Seniors Zach Vititoe, Clay Brown, Andrew Schaefer, and Austin Goodman will be great, and they will also be aided by juniors Trent Stigler and Colin Kremer. Stigler and Kremer logged very important minutes on the varsity stage last season as sophomores, and they could be in store for huge third seasons.
The back end of Tiger Soccer should be as impressive as ever. Luvisi graduates, but the Tigers return another stellar stopper in senior Alex Popovich. Much like it was last season with Luvisi, it will be extremely tough for opponents to get anything past him, as his quick insticts and agility allow him to react to any shot in an instant.
Grimes says that St. X’s depth will help the Tigers a lot, but one thing the team needs to work on is making all the players work in synchronized organization.
“One of our strengths this year will be our numbers. We have a lot of players who can come off the bench and play,” Grimes explains. “We still need to work on our communication, though. The key to making the run (to state) will be leadership.”
Regardless of how much talent a team has at its disposal, it really helps when a strong head coach can anchor the unit. Luckily for St. X, it has one of the best in Andy Schulten. He has proven through the years that he is one of the best coaches in America, even winning the National Coach of the Year one season. The players recognize how important he and top assistant Nathan Durbin are to team success.
“They are vital to the team,” says Grimes. “They push us everyday in practice and make us better players everyday.”
The Tigers began their season on Tuesday with a 4-1 victory over Christian Academy in a scrimmage. Brown and Schaefer each put two shots pass the Centurion goalie to fuel St. X. It wasn’t hard at all to notice Schaefer’s impact on the game; he was a blur, flying everywhere and constantly disrupting CAL’s rhythm.
Brown was happy to be on the field with his teammates for the first time in while. Like many players and fans, he’s excited for what this season could hold.
“It felt good to be back out there with the team,” Brown says. “We still have a couple of holes we need to fill to be where we want, but I think we have the right people out there to fill them.”