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Lingering questions face Flashes

St. Aloysius players bring out the rally caps in a game against West Lincoln on March 19. The Flashes won 5-4 on a bunt squeeze in the bottom of the sixth.(Melanie Duncan Thortis The Vicksburg Post)

[5/1/04]When the final out was recorded in St. Aloysius’ loss to West Lincoln last Saturday, it did more than end the Flashes’ season. It ended an era, and started a period of uncertainty and doubt for the school’s baseball program.

The Flashes have a number of questions and question marks heading into next season.

How will they plug up a leaky defense that was their Achilles heel all season long?

How quickly will their young players develop, and can the few returning upperclassmen hold the line until they do?

And, most importantly, who will be their next coach?

Joe Graves resigned as St. Al’s coach two weeks ago, ending a 22-year tenure at the school. St. Al has not hired a new coach yet, but whoever it brings in will have a huge impact on the future of the program.

“If we can find another good coach, we’ll be all right. But if we can’t find a good coach, I’m not looking forward to it,” junior catcher Rob Jones said. “We need a good coach because we don’t have as much talent coming back as we had this year.”

The cupboard isn’t completely bare. Jones, who has led the team in home runs each of the last two seasons, returns behind the plate. So do pitchers Andy Wiles and Marsh Willis, and freshman center fielder Jordan Muirhead.

Beyond that, St. Al will have four new starters next season and few experienced players to plug into the holes. The team has a large junior high class on the way, but a small ninth- and 10th-grade group that will likely put them on a rebuilding course.

Graves sees a bright future for the program, if the young players continue to develop.

“They have a good nucleus coming back, and they have talent. They just have to grow and be consistent with it,” Graves said.

This year’s Flashes never could get in sync defensively. Errors plagued them all season long, and led to their defeat in two playoff games last weekend.

Still, St. Al finished the season 10-12 and second in Division 7-1A behind Natchez Cathedral. The strong finish and playoff appearance left the Flashes wondering about what might have been had they gelled on defense.

“In the playoffs we just kind of stunk it up,” Jones said. “The pitching was good. We scored enough runs. But the defense was the same way it’s been all year.”

Now St. Al will have to learn a new way next year one that doesn’t involve Graves.

Graves hasn’t gotten another job offer yet, but said he had solid leads from schools within driving distance of Vicksburg. He’ll stay on as coach of St. Al’s summer team, the Vicksburg Thunder, then hopefully head for greener pastures in the fall.

“It’s going to be different, but hopefully it’s going to open up some bigger and better things for me,” Graves said. “It’s just a matter of waiting and working.”

It also will be different for his players, who will have to adjust to a new coach’s style and the silence from the third base box, where Graves had barked orders at them for so long.

“I think we’re really losing a lot when we lose coach Graves,” Wiles said. “I just think he’s a really good coach and he taught us a lot. I’m really going to miss him.”