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St. Al not settling for second this season

This is the first in a series of previews of local baseball teams. Thursday: St. Aloysius; Friday: Vicksburg High; Monday: Warren Central; Feb 26: Porters Chapel

[02/15/01] After 14 straight seasons in the playoffs, the St. Aloysius Flashes had to sit home the last two postseasons. Coach Joe Graves thinks the 2001 Flashes will stop that streak.

St. Al has a deep pitching staff, a pair of solid catchers and a corps of reliable bats that will put the Flashes back on the right track, Graves said.

“Probably of all the teams I’ve had at St. Al, we’ve got more talent than any group. We’ve got good hands, good speed, good arms,” Graves said. “We had a great summer, played against good talent and got more confident.”

The sting of missing the playoffs two years in a row hasn’t missed the St. Al players, either. The 20-6 record that the program’s summer team, the Vicksburg Thunder, compiled last summer has them chomping at the bit to get the high school season rolling.

“We look real strong. We’ve got our pitching back and we only lost six games during the summer, so we’ve got real high expectations,” said St. Al senior Clay Simmons. “I’ve been waiting for baseball since the end of summer. Everybody’s stronger and ready to go.”

The Flashes’ strength starts with their deep pitching staff. Last year’s top three pitchers Aaron George, Ryan Hearn and Clay Simmons return, and senior Joey Lyons and sophomore Charlie Amborn should see more time on the mound.

George has turned into the staff’s ace. He’s put on nearly 50 pounds, consistently throws in the 85 mph range and went 4-2 with a 4.18 ERA last season. He also matured at the plate last season, hitting .383 with eight home runs and a team-high 31 RBIs.

Hearn, meanwhile, has led the team in innings pitched the last two seasons and walked only nine while striking out 48 in 41-2/3 innings last season.

“We’ve got about five pitchers that could start any game at any time,” Hearn said.

Simmons had a 3.72 ERA, but is also the team’s best hitter. He hit .483 last season, had a .608 on-base percentage, drove in 28 runs and stole 18 bases. When he isn’t pitching, he’ll play shortstop.

George and Charlie Amborn will handle the bulk of the catching duties, while Hearn, Lyons and sophomore Alex Frisbee will platoon at third base. Victor Segers will play second, but is expected to miss the first two weeks of the season with a sprained ankle.

At first base, Keith Flowers and Lee Wiles will compete for the starting job. Both improved dramatically over the summer, Graves said.

“Lee Wiles had an unbelievable summer,” Graves said. “He improved defensively and offensively to the point that he’s as good as anybody we’ve had in a while.”

In the outfield, Blake Warnock (.360, 17 RBIs in 2000) is penciled in for center field, while Chris Bass will shift between left and right and Amborn and sophomore Jason Brown will compete for the last spot. Also in the mix is sophomore Walker Hengst, who will miss the early part of the season with a leg injury suffered during football season.

“I’ve got four consistent outfielders from the summer, and then in comes Jason Brown,” Graves said with a laugh. “I’ve got five legitimate outfielders that can come in and help us on the varsity level.”

If the younger Flashes continue to improve, and the established players continue to play at a high level, Graves said he thinks the team can not only break its playoff drought, but do some damage in the postseason.

“We’re not going to be satisfied with second place, we want to win the division. We’ve had two summers of extremely hard work, and I think it’s going to show this season,” Graves said. “If they strive, they’ve got a chance t win the whole thing.”