April 11th, 2012

St. X Sweeps Pool Play, Advances To Finals

Chris Jung

Senior Writer

St. X Sweeps Pool Play, Advances To Finals
photo by Chris Jung

Tigers set to play for Derby City Classic championship

Austin Clemons is likely not aiming to remove a common baseball stigma, but he may be doing so with his work at the top of the order and behind the plate.

On base during all four of his plate appearances on Wednesday night, the sophomore Clemons went 3-for-3, scored three runs and stole a base from the leadoff spot to lead his St. Xavier team to a 9-3 win over South Oldham and a perfect 3-0 record in Pool B play within this week's Derby City Classic.

With starting catchers not traditionally known for their speed or gracing the top spot in the batting order, Clemons continues to prove his versatility and has the Tigers off to a 12-4 start and gunning for a possible Derby City Classic title with one more win on Thursday night.

“Austin has been doing that all year long. He just has a knack to get on base and sometimes it takes you looking at the scorebook after the game and you’re like, ‘Wow, he did it again’,” said St. X head coach Andy Porta. “It’s not always hits – it’s the walks, reaching by error, hit by pitches. He just knows how to get on base. And for a sophomore, that’s phenomenal.”

Has Porta ever seen a catcher thrive in the role of leadoff hitter?

“It is really, really rare, but it’s a credit to Austin because he can play multiple positions,” said Porta. “He’s helping us out at the catcher position. Austin can play middle infield; he could probably play outfield if we wanted him to. But right now we feel like we want him in that leadoff spot and we want him behind the plate as much as possible.”

A squad that has been successful thus far in 2012 due to the consisent ability to score two-out runs, St. Xavier took control of the game on Wednesday by scoring five runs in the bottom of the second inning against the Dragons, all with two outs.

After seniors Colin McFarland and Alex Mercer were retired to begin the bottom half of the inning, senior Zack Denzik was hit by a pitch and juniors Nate Stemle and Gunnar Wagoner delivered back-to-back singles - Wagoner's line drive plated the Tigers' first run. Then after an unsuccessful fielder's choice attempt by South Oldham that allowed the 2nd St. X run to score, Tigers senior Jake Johsnon ripped a two-RBI base hit to left field to put his team up 4-0.

The fifth St. Xavier run during the 2nd inning came when South Oldham starting pitcher Jordan Simons balked on the mound.

“Simons is a good pitcher, so it was nice for us to manufacture some runs,” said Porta. “And then once we got him out of the game, we felt pretty confident against the other (pitchers).”

The Dragons were able to respond and scored a pair of two-out runs of their own in the top half of the 3rd inning, and eventually cut the Tigers' lead to 6-3, but St. X answered again with three more two-out runs in the 6th inning to all but put South Oldham away.

A two-RBI single by senior first baseman Andrew Willinger was the marquee hit of that particluar rally.

St. Xavier's McFarland earned the win on the bump against the Dragons. He completed five innings, struck out six batters and allowed just two earned runs for his 2nd victory of the year. Not as dominant as he was earlier in the season against the likes of powers Lexington Catholic and Male, McFarland was still effective and pitched more confidently behind the run support he's been waiting to receive.

“It was tough luck early in the year (for McFarland), but his last two outings he’s gotten some run support,” said Porta. “Pitching and defense are our two strengths, but the last couple of games our pitching hasn’t been as sharp. But the run support was great and the sticks are coming around.”

The Tigers, which defeated South Oldham in regular season play by the same score (9-3) three weeks ago, pounded out 10 hits against the Dragons and got RBIs from five different hitters. Johnson led all players with 3 runs batted in, including a RBI groundout, to go along with a run, a walk and a stolen base.

Wagoner was 2-for-2 with a run, a RBI and two stolen bases. He and Clemons reached base in all seven appearances combined.

Denzik, who did not have a hit offensively, did throw two hitless innings in relief of McFarland. He threw just 25 pitches and struck out two South Oldham batters. The only base runner he allowed came on a St. X defensive error in the infield.

The Dragons (7-9) were led at the dish by Simons. The senior was 2-for-3 and drove in all three South Oldham runs. Sophomore Drew Greenwood was 2-for-4 and scored a run.

With the victory over the Dragons, St. X caps a stretch of three wins in three nights and went 3-0 in Derby City Classic pool play by defeating Atherton, Butler and South Oldham by a combined score of 29-5. That ensures that the Tigers will play on Thursday night against the Pool A winner for the DCC title.

With many schools and teams hitting the road during Spring Break for out-of-town tournaments, St. Xavier elected to stay home and partake in this local round-robin tournament after event organizer, Manual High School head baseball coach Josh Wolff, approached Porta in August about playing and serving as one of three Derby City Classic host locations.

Manual's Derby City Field and Southern High School also served as hosts for pool play games this week.

“We may look into traveling (during Spring Break) in the future, but right now I’m more interested in staying home, taking advantage of our nice facility and getting some good competition in opposed to traveling,” said Porta.

With the Pool A winner and results coming down to Wednesday's games, Porta was unsure of his team's opponent for Thursday night. He told three different pitchers to be ready to start.

If St. X should play tournament host Manual on Thursday in the finals, the result would not count toward the 25th District standings and seeding, but could dictate the direction Porta and his coaching staff goes in terms of pitching matchups and decisions.

Regardless, the Tigers will be in action at 8:30pm on Thursday night at Derby City Field with a tournament title on the line. St. X is then scheduled to host a doubleheader on Saturday against fellow Catholic school Mater Dei (IN) at Mueller Field.


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