Call it a youth movement|Underclassmen fill vital roles for Flashes in title defense

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 7, 2010

When three senior starters graduated from St. Aloysius’ Class 1A championship team, coach Clint Wilkerson took a deep breath.

When starting infielders Ryno Martin-Nez and Justin Rushing went down with injuries, Wilkerson wondered what else could go wrong.

When he saw how their replacements were doing, Wilkerson finally let out a sigh of relief.

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Infielders Josh Eargle, Reed Evans and Matthew Foley — a sophomore, freshman and eighth-grader, respectively — have stepped in and exceeded expectations in their first season as starters. With timely hits and solid defense they’ve helped the Flashes avoid what could have been a disastrous situation and keep rolling toward the playoffs.

“Somebody had to step in because they’re a big part of the team,” Eargle said of replacing his more experienced teammates. “We’ve done a good job with the opportunity we’ve gotten.”

Evans was the only one of the three expected to start after last year’s championship run. He was next in line at first base when Joseph Brown graduated and has made the job his, hitting .410 with a team-high eight doubles and 17 RBIs.

Breaking into the starting lineup was a rare opportunity for Evans to play with his older brother Stephen, a senior pitcher, and his friends.

In his younger days, Reed Evans had often tagged along on weekend trips to watch Stephen’s tournament team play. A lot of those same players are now seniors for St. Al. Reed Evans said knowing them for so long made him feel more at home when he finally got the chance to play alongside them.

“I felt a lot more comfortable because my brother is a senior and I’ve been around them for 10 years,” Reed Evans said. “There’s a little bit of nerves, but once I got in games, I just play like I know how and don’t feel any pressure.”

Eargle pitched in seven games last season but only had two at-bats. He was thrust into the starting third baseman’s spot when Martin-Nez suffered a serious knee injury during football season.

Eargle didn’t waste the opportunity. He’s hitting .355 with 11 RBIs.

“When Ryno got hurt, (Eargle) was forced into it and he responded to it like a guy who had been playing all along,” Wilkerson said. “He’s gotten hits for us and been steady at third base.”

Foley also got his chance because of injury. He competed for the starting second baseman’s job before ultimately losing out in the preseason. When Rushing, St. Al’s utility infielder, was lost for the season with a broken leg, Foley moved into the lineup.

While his .267 batting average isn’t as impressive as his infield mates, Foley has contributed in smaller ways. He’s been a huge asset at the bottom of the order by getting bunts down and getting on base for the sluggers at the top. With only 22 plate appearances this season, Foley has still managed to scored 13 runs.

“I’m definitely real proud of it,” Foley said of his early success. “I’m just trying to work hard every day and not be satisfied with how good I am right now.”

Wilkerson said Foley indirectly benefited from Martin-Nez’s injury. Martin-Nez’s absence forced last year’s starting second baseman, Pierson Waring, to move to shortstop and allowed Foley to get more practice time this preseason.

“We practiced Foley like he was going to play and because of the reps, he’s been able to get in there and get it done,” Wilkerson said. “He’s still young and has a lot to work on. But he’s not playing like an eighth-grader. He’s playing like a sophomore.”

Not only are the newcomers helping St. Al this season, they should help the team stay in contention after eight seniors graduate this year. Evans, Eargle and Foley will form a nucleus the Flashes can build around the next two or three years.

“We’ll probably be the base of it,” Evans said. “We’ve got a good eighth-grade class with potential. Maybe they can be as good as those seniors.”

Although their best days are still ahead, all three players are squarely focused on this season. With so much veteran talent around them, and the memory of last year’s championship run still fresh, they’re not losing sight of a rare window of opportunity to repeat.

And a state championship this year, when they’re doing more than cheering on their older teammates, would mean much, much more.

“I want to win one as a starter,” Eargle said. “Everybody wants to win another one.”

Contact Ernest Bowker at