St. Al making strides during summer

Published 11:41 am Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The job of rebuilding the St. Aloysius baseball program, at least for this summer, has been given to a familiar face in former Flashes assistant coach Trey Clark.

Just a year removed from winning its second consecutive Class 1A championship, St. Al fell on hard times this spring. Three coaches came and went as the team slumped to a 3-19 record. A fourth, Millsaps assistant Derrik Boland, is on the way. St. Al athletic director Jim Taylor said this morning that the school has hired Boland as its new coach — the third since Clint Wilkerson left last summer.

Wilkerson was replaced by Chris Wright, who resigned in February to return to Columbus to care for his ill grandfather. Wright was succeeded by Jacan Warren, whose contract was not renewed after going 2-15 last season. Taylor coached the team’s last four games.

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That was a major slide for St. Al, which won back-to-back Class 1A titles in 2009 and 2010 under Wilkerson, now the head coach at Ridgeland High School. Clark was an assistant for Wilkerson from 2007 to 2009, and was called upon to lead the Flashes this summer.

Clark, who just completed his second year of law school, said he had to build confidence in a young squad that featured several eighth- and ninth-grade starters.

“The first thing we had to do was clear the air,” Clark said. “We addressed about being accountable and getting back to fundamentals. After today (Tuesday) we will have played 20 games and in those games we have put a lot of bunts down. We want to be good fundamentally and I think we’ve made progress.”

Until then, Clark will continue his work with the Flashes, along with the help of two-time Vicksburg Post Player of the Year Stephen Evans.

Neal Ricks, the only senior starter returning for next season, said Clark and Evans have been great.

“We’re back to playing good baseball,” Ricks said. “They have helped us get back to playing fundamentally sound baseball.”

On top of getting the basics down, Clark has also tried to re-instill the intensity Wilkerson required the Flashes to play with.

“Other than one or two lapses, we’ve played these 20 games with a lot of intensity,” Clark said.

The summer schedule has also continued St. Al’s recent tradition of playing larger schools. Last weekend, it took advantage of a late cancellation by another team to sneak into the State Games tournament and faced Yazoo City, Clinton and Brookhaven.

On Tuesday, the Flashes split the second of two scheduled doubleheaders against Warren Central’s junior varsity team, losing game one 11-3 before taking game two 9-4. The last stretch of June includes two matchups with Class 4A Florence.

The difficult schedule has given St. Al’s young pitchers a trial by fire — which they’ve largely passed, Clark said. The Flashes have used Carlisle Koestler, Matt Foley, Ben Welp, Matt Mims, Seth Carpenter, Will Pierce and Pat Murphy on the mound this summer.

Josh Eargle, a projected senior starter, had to have a second surgery on his injured knee and won’t be available until next March. Eargle missed most of last season after injuring his knee playing football.

“We know we don’t have dominant pitchers, but with the new bats, we need to shove the ball through the strike zone. We want to mix speeds, hit our spots. But the biggest thing is to shove the strike zone and we’ve done that about 60 percent of the time,” Clark said.