April 26th, 2012
St. X Wins, Evens Season Series With Male
Melchior leads Tigers to 1-0 road win over Bulldogs
Three weeks ago, the St. Xavier High School baseball team was unable to push a single run across the plate during a 1-0 home loss to Male.
On Wednesday, playing at Bill Edwards Field on the campus of Male High School, the No. 3 ranked Tigers scored a run in the top of the very first inning, made it stand up, and held on to defeat the No. 1 Bulldogs by that exact same score, 1-0, in a game that held moderate 25th District implications.
St. X junior Sam Melchior went the distance and earned the complete game shutout victory on the mound by allowing just four hits and throwing first-pitch strikes to 20 of the 29 batters that he faced. He also picked off three Male base runners and forced a trio of clutch groundballs during the bottom of the third inning with Male threatening a big outburst.
"He's such a competitor and he's so smart. In fact, sometimes he's too smart for his own good," said St. Xavier head coach Andy Porta. "Sometimes he'll outthink himself and we'll have to say, 'Sam, we've got a pretty darn good pitching coach in Kyle Switalski - you just trust Coach Swit and let him call the pitches,' and I think (Melchior) is starting to enjoy it. It takes some pressure off him, he's relaxed and it has really worked out well for him."
After Melchior issued a leadoff walk and committed a two-base throwing error to first base away from the mound in the third inning, Male suddenly had runners on 2nd and 3rd base, nobody out and visions of a significant offensive output that could have potentially put the Tigers on the ropes.
But Melchior calmly stuck to the gameplan and proceeded to force back-to-back ground balls by Male seniors Josh Reinhart and Trey Simpson, the Bulldogs No. 2 and 3 batters in the order. And on both plays, St. X junior shortstop Nate Stemle gunned down the lead runner at home plate, preventing Male from scoring a run during a key opportunity.
Melichor officially escaped the jam by getting Bulldogs senior Blake Oyler to ground out to 2nd base, but it was an alert Stemle whose sharp decision making kept the Bulldogs off the scoreboard and St. X in control.
"He's just so solid," said Porta of Stemle. "He's one of those guys that from November on, he was at the field saying, 'Coach, will you hit me a bucket of balls?'. He doesn't have the strongest arm in the world, but he knows when to charge (the ball) and when to get it over (to first), he judges opposing players and knows who's quick out of the box and who is slower so that he can take his time. He's just Mr. Consistent."
In a game that was originally scheduled for April 4th before rain forced a postponement, Male threatened again during the next inning following back-to-back two-out singles, but Melchior caught senior Dalton Howell away from second base and picked him off at the bag to once again help St. X cling to its 1-0 lead.
Both teams had an array of missed opportunities due to miscues on the base paths, but it was Male's mistakes that ended up being the most costly.
"I think (Male coach) Todd (Driskell) would agree with me that neither team ran the bases very well. That was like a clinic of what not to do there for a while," said Porta. "But our guys didn't hang their head and they persevered; it's not like they took a mental base running mistake onto the field, or into the (batter's) box or the mound. I was proud of them for that."
The aforementioned first-inning run that the Tigers put on the board to start the game came after a manufactured run by St. X. With one out, senior Conrad Ulmer walked and senior Colin McFarland singled to centerfield. Ulmer eventually tagged up and advanced to third base on a deep fly out by senior Andrew Willinger and senior Jake Johnson walked to load the bases with two outs for the Tigers against Male starting pitcher Trey Simpson.
Then, on the third pitch he saw, sophomore Andrew McCormick bounced a tricky hopper that was mishandled by the Bulldog shortstop and allowed Ulmer to scurry home for the first and only run of the game on the two-out error.
"We played seven innings against them and didn't score the last time, so it was nice in the very first inning to finally put a run across." said Porta. "It was huge to put a run on the board first. It sends a message that we didn't score last time, but we're coming to get you this time."
Ulmer, McFarland and Willinger collected three of the Tigers' four hits in the game and combined to go 3-for-8 with a walk. St. Xavier junior Andrew Hubbs accounted for the other base knock when he roped a one-out line drive single into left field as a pinch hitter in the top of the 7th.
Male was ranked No. 1 in the state by the Kentucky High School Baseball Coaches Association heading into the game, but that will likely change following Wednesday's final result and a pair of unlikely home Bulldog losses over the weekend to unranked Whitefield Academy and DeSales during the Earl Driskell Classic.
The Bulldogs, which started the season by winning 14 of its first 15 games, have now lost 3 of its last 4 and tagged southpaw Simpson with the loss on Wednesday despite giving up just the one run. Simpson threw 118 pitches during the defeat, struck out five and walked five.He also hit a batter.
Male (16-4) was led offensively by Tyler Adams, Justen Linares, Howell and John Cloyd. Each of them had one hit apiece in the losing effort.
With the St. X victory, the Tigers and Bulldogs finish the regular season series all square at 1-1. St. Xavier went 3-1 against 25th District opponents during the year, which means that Male has to defeat rival Manual twice next week to force a district seeding tie with St. X. If the Bulldogs lose one of its two games against the Crimsons, the Tigers would earn the No. 1 seed and earn a bye into the district tournament finals.
"All we need is a split. That's all we're cheering for, is a split," said Porta of the two upcoming games between Male and Manual. "We know that if they split, we're the No. 1 seed in the district tournament and that basically assures yourself a spot in the regional tournament."
If Male wins both games against Manual, a tie-breaking coin flip between St. X and the Bulldogs would determine the district's top seed.
Before it can begin scoreboard watching, St. Xavier has plenty to focus on during the next five days. The Tigers (19-5) will host Tates Creek, Russell County and Henderson County in consecutive days during this weekend's Louisville Invitational Tournament. The LIT is a 40-team event that is played at 11 different host locations, but no overall winner will be determined.
Following that three-game stretch, St. X will renew its annual rivalry with Trinity at Louisville Slugger Field.
The Tigers' will play Tates Creek (9-7) at Mueller Field on Thursday at 6:30pm.