Sacred Heart playing better entering 1A postseason

By CAMAL PETRO,

The Sacred Heart Crusaders baseball team has pulled off an impressive feat. On Friday, they’ll start postseason play with zero seniors on their roster and only four juniors.

Sacred Heart will matchup with second-seeded Sebastopol (11-7) in the first round. Game 1 will be played Friday at Sebastopol and it’s a 6 p.m. first pitch. Sacred Heart will host Game 2 Saturday at 2 p.m., and if necessary, Game 3 is 6 p.m. Monday back at Sebastopol.

The odds were stacked against Sacred Heart to start the season. Without much winning experience on its roster, Sacred Heart needed some younger players to be productive. After starting the season 2-9, the Crusaders are now winners of six of their last seven games, which include four straight region wins.

“I’m extremely proud of our kids here at Sacred Heart,” Sacred Heart coach Tim Coats said. “We went through a stretch early in the season where we lost several ballgames that we were run-ruled. They never quit. Every day in practice we’ve worked and we’ve improved. I feel good about our team going into the playoffs.”

Coats harped fundamentals before the season started, and he knew his team needed to focus on the little things to get better. Of Sacred Heart’s first nine losses, six were by 10 runs or more. During this recent string of success, opponents are only scoring slightly more than four runs per game in the last seven contests, while offensively Sacred Heart is scoring an average of nearly nine runs.

Sacred Heart’s Top 2 pitchers, junior Luke Hicks and sophomore Ryan Gerald, have pitched better, too. Both are 2-0 in the last seven games, and the two pitched complete games in last Friday’s doubleheader sweep of Salem. Gerald and Hicks had rocky starts to the season, but the two are finding some consistency on the mound now.

Gerald has struck out 13 batters in the last two games (11.1 innings), while Hicks has 19 strikeouts and allowed just five earned runs in the last 13 innings.

“Those are our Top 2 guys and they’ve been our Top 2 guys all year,” Coats said. “They pitched great (Friday) and I’m really proud of them.”

Not only has Sacred Heart improved on the mound, but it’s hitting the ball better as well. The Crusaders only had two games through the first 11 when they had a team batting average of .300 or better. In the last seven games, they’ve reached that mark five times. Hicks, Luke Wiest and Ewan Robinson are all hitting .350 or better, as Wiest leads the team with a .400 average from the plate. Hicks is second on the team (.350) while Robinson isn’t too far behind (.348).

However, no other player who sees consistent at-bats has an average better than .250.

“I’ve got three guys who are hitting the baseball,” Coats said. “They’re at the top of our order and they’ve been hitting it all year. We’re trying to get the bottom part of our order to hit, and we’ve had several guys improving and bumping their average up. Once again, it’s a young team so we just have to keep working and be positive, and good things will happen.”

While the young Sacred Heart Crusaders are gaining experience every day, nothing compares to the playoff experience they’ll gain this weekend.

“Any sport, you have to do it to get the experience,” Coats said. “We work out here in practice, but there’s nothing like game experience. As the year went along, with each game they got better. Even though we didn’t win as many games as we wanted to, they were still improving. The same thing for the playoffs, we have to get playoff experience to get better in the playoffs.”