Flames loom in first round

Published 11:44 am Wednesday, April 18, 2012

For a team with a 5-16 record that didn’t lock down its playoff spot until the last week of the season, the St. Aloysius Flashes are a confident bunch.

“We could’ve easily won the district,” senior infielder Josh Eargle said, with more optimism than regret in his voice.

The key, for Eargle and his teammates, is the knowledge that their record could be flipped if not for a few blown leads and close calls. St. Al was winless in seven games this season decided by one or two runs, and blew big leads in two others.

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Even if this year’s win total is only a slight improvement over last season’s 3-18 mark, the close calls helped rebuild the Flashes’ confidence. As they prepare for a first-round Class 1A playoff series with University Christian (12-7), the focus is on learning from their mistakes and turning the setbacks into good fortune in the postseason.

“We had a few tough losses that could’ve easily gone our way,” said first baseman Neal Ricks, who along with Eargle are the only two seniors on the team. “It definitely helped us. It showed us we were capable of doing it, especially coming off such a tough year last year.”

One of St. Al’s losses of the non-close variety came against University Christian. On Feb. 25, St. Al managed only four hits and was throttled 14-1 by the Flames.

The Flashes, though, have chosen to all but ignore that one. It was the second game of the season, so long ago that both teams have grown, and also the back end of a doubleheader. None of the three pitchers St. Al used in that game will start in the playoff series unless it goes to a decisive third game.

“We definitely didn’t play our best baseball. They haven’t seen our best baseball,” Ricks said. “We’ve improved so much, just from that point in the season to where we are now. I’m proud of all my teammates for working hard to get that way.”

In its first five games, St. Al gave up 63 runs. It surrendered at least 10 runs in five of its last seven games, but mixed in were two close division losses (3-2 and 5-3) to archrival Cathedral. Like his players, coach Derrik Boland believes the Flashes aren’t far away from making some noise in the postseason.

“We are very, very close,” Boland said. “A lot of that came down to pressure situations and handling the mental part of the game. The good thing is, they started handling that later in the year.”