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St. Al, Union ready for Round 2

[4/25/03]Two years ago, St. Aloysius faced Union in the second round of the playoffs after defeating its first round opponent in two games by the mercy rule.

Fast forward to today, and the scene is nearly identical as St. Al (14-5) will travel to face Union (19-11) at 6 p.m. in the second round of the Class 1A state playoffs, a week removed from two mercy-rule first-round victories, 12-0 and 10-0, against Ethel (13-13).

When the two teams met in 2001, the Flashes narrowly escaped elimination with a sixth-inning rally to come back from a 4-2 deficit to win 11-4 in the third and final game of the series. St. Al went on to lose to Lake in the South State finals that year.

The Flashes lost the second game in 2001 to pitcher Jody Blount, who will start tonight for Union. A sophomore at the time, Blount held St. Al to one run.

St. Al head coach Joe Graves remembers Blount and said he expects some difficult competition from the Yellowjackets in a clash of pitching versus hitting.

“It’s going to be a tough matchup,” Graves said. “It should be two good ballgames against this group.”

The Flashes will counter with senior southpaw Jason Brown. In addition to his one-hit shutout on Friday, Brown contributed at the plate against Ethel with a homerun in each contest, his first two of the season.

Brown (7-1) will pitch today and Monday, if necessary. Alex Frisbee (7-1) will throw on Saturday.

“Ethel wasn’t very hard, but I think Union will be a lot tougher because they’re a better team,” Brown said. “I figure they’ll give us a run, but if we play our game we’ll be all right.”

Similar to St. Al, Union is fresh off a pair of mercy-rule victories, 12-2 and 10-0, against Stringer last week.

Union head coach Joey Ward said he expects strong pitching against St. Al from his starters Blount and Wes Henry.

Both Blount and Henry are also the top hitters in a Yellowjacket lineup that struggles at times to score.

“We don’t hit a lot of home runs,” Ward said. “We have to scratch out runs, and sometimes we’re forced to play small ball.”

Graves said the key to defeating the Yellowjackets will be to put pressure on Union’s offense with good pitching and defense.

“Union’s played tough teams all the way through,” he said. “They’ve got a good ballclub, a senior club. When it gets down to the last eight teams in the South, everybody’s good. You can’t take anybody for granted.”

St. Aloysius senior right fielder Charlie Amborn echoed Graves’ sentiments with his concerns about the Flashes’ pitching and defense.

“Our hitting will be fine,” he said. “If our pitching and our defense hold up, we’ll be all right, and we’ll win in two.”

Unlike last weekend, Graves expects this to be a much closer series.

“It always gets a little tighter and a little tighter,” Graves said. “You don’t have many blowouts in the last eight teams.”