Players on the St. Pius X High School baseball team are a confident bunch, and it shows in their crisp play in the field and at bat.
Yet, for all of that confidence — "swagger," as their coach calls it — they're quick to recognize the importance of their teammates for their success.
The team's pitching, hitting and fielding was top-notch April 17 as St. Pius pounded out 13 hits in a 14-0 win vs. Whitfield High School. Senior catcher Zac Meyer led the offense with three doubles, a home run and three runs batted in. Sophomore Jeremy Isenman struck out five in three innings, giving up one hit, to lead a quartet of pitchers in the shutout.
Isenman, whose innings were limited due to recent dental surgery, focuses on getting first-pitch strikes, then relies on fielders. He praised Meyer for throwing out runners trying to steal, adding "our shortstop is phenomenal and our first baseman was just picking up people" vs. Whitfield with snags of off-line throws.
It also helps when the offense provides a lot of runs.
"You can be more relaxed on the mound when you know your team is behind you helping you out," Isenman said. "I can pitch as good as I want, but it's about what happens after I pitch the ball. They make good plays. We might have an error now and then, but they pick each other up."
Isenman classifies the team as "just like a family. In practices we work hard, get stuff done and have fun together."
Meyer takes a leadership role on and off the field. Against Whitfield, for example, he urged the third baseman to play in when a bunt was expected. He tries to stay ahead of each play. Knowing that fielders' concentration sometimes wanes, he tries to keep them alert and anticipating the next batter.
"I just try to befriend the team," he said. "I spend a lot of time individually with each guy ... trying to communicate with each one."
At the plate, he approaches each pitch as a new opportunity. "After I have an at-bat, whether it was good or bad I just flush it," he said. "It's not in my mind anymore."
Meyer enjoys the game because of "how smart you have to be to play well. I like that there's a lot of strategy in the game, it's quick at times and if you get down by a lot of runs early you can claw back."
St. Pius' players "have a strong drive to win," Meyer said. "We want to go all the way, but take it a day at a time to achieve that."
Coach Jerry Woods and the staff stress the need for line drives and hard-hit ground balls because, as illustrated at the start of the Whitfield game, "most of the time fly balls get caught. About the third inning, they started figuring it out."
"This group doesn't lack for confidence," he added. "You gotta have a little swag. We don't want to dampen that, but we want to keep stressing fundamentals. That's what's going to win close ballgames."
He cited a couple instances on the basepaths in which players failed to execute properly and need improvement. But everywhere else, they performed exceptionally well, led by Isenman and Meyer — "rock solid" as the coach called them, the team's ace pitcher and clutch hitter. Last year, Meyer had a .520 batting average with eight doubles and 21 RBIs and Isenman had a 7-3 record and a 1.79 ERA. Both are off to good starts this year.
"It's a fun group of guys," Woods said. "We just have to keep focusing on character-building and fundamental baseball."
Woods stresses sportsmanship — at the end of the game he had a player apologize to an opponent for an inadvertent slip up that may have been misinterpreted as in bad taste.
A member of Immaculate Conception Parish in Arnold, Isenman's faith is strong. He wears a cross on a chain when he plays in a summer league (jewelry is banned in high school games). He dedicates every game to someone such as a coach whose wife died recently.
Meyer, a parishioner at Sacred Heart Parish in Crystal City, said team members challenge each other many ways in their faith, from having a good attitude to paying attention to prayer.
>> Team effort
In their game against Whitfield April 17, shortstop Eli Dale and first baseman Mark Chafin set the tone in the first inning with their fielding. Dale ranged far to his right, backhanded the ball and threw a one-hopper that Chafin scooped for the out.
In the second inning, catcher Zac Meyer caught a runner trying to steal, throwing him out with plenty of time to spare. A double play on the infield in the fifth was among the other defensive gems.
At the plate, Meyer belted a two-run home run over the fence in the fifth to give the team a 5-0 lead.
Meyer starred on offense, but the team had plenty of other firepower led by Dale with two hits and three RBIs and Sean McDowell with two hits and an RBI. RBIs also came from Dustin Burch, Chafin, Adam Edwards and Brendan Weatherholt.
Jeremy Isenman started and got the win. Relievers Luke Lampros, McDowell and Dale completed the 14-0 shutout.