Don’t look now, but the Bishop Alemany Warriors’ baseball squad is hitting its stride. After graduating 15 seniors from last year’s talented team, Alemany stumbled out of the gate this season to a slow, injury-riddled 1-7 start.
However, that tough start appears to be a thing of the past, as this year’s version of the Warriors have done a tremendous job in recent weeks, winning eight of their last 11 games — including a 4-3 win versus the Notre Dame-Sherman Oaks Knights April 15.
“We’re starting to get healthy and we’re starting to grow up,” says Alemany manager Randy Thompson. “They’re starting to see what they can do when they bring that effort to the yard.”
Case and point, last week’s three-game series versus the Knights, the 32nd ranked team in the state and traditionally Alemany’s fiercest Mission League rival. After enduring a heartbreaking 3-2 loss in 14 innings at Notre Dame on April 12, Alemany bounced back with a 6-4 win on its home field the next day to even the series. And in the April 15 season finale back at Notre Dame, the Warriors staved off a late Knights’ comeback to seal a gutsy win.
Lewis and Traxel take charge early
During the April 15 game, Alemany faced the difficult challenge of going up against Notre Dame national prospect Hunter Greene, whose fastball surpasses 90 miles per hour. But early on, the Warriors appeared undaunted by the task at hand. With two outs in the first inning, Alemany senior shortstop Will Picketts singled and stole second base. The next batter, senior first baseman Brandon Lewis, scored Picketts with an RBI single.
Lewis would play the role of the hero again in the third inning, smacking a three-run homer over the left field wall to break open a 4-0 lead and galvanize the Alemany dugout.
“We’ve been waiting on Hunter Greene all week,” says Lewis. We know he throws hard. Coach told us to cheat on the fastball. So that’s what we did: he threw a fastball and I got a hold of it.”
“He’s tough; he’s really good,” adds Thompson of hitting against the hard-throwing Greene. “We told our hitters to take the guesswork out: you’ve gotta go up [to the plate] looking [for a] fastball right away. We were going to take any type of spin. Our only chance was to make him change. And he did start changing, because he started throwing some first pitch sliders and curveballs. And that’s what we wanted to do: have him change his approach, and get him out of his comfort level.”
Meanwhile, Alemany sophomore starting pitcher Blaine Traxel couldn’t have looked any more comfortable, striking out six Knights and allowing only five hits and one earned run over the course of six innings.
“It was really encouraging; Blaine grew up tonight,” says Thompson of Traxel’s calm, dominant performance in a high-pressure situation. “He’s a tough kid, and I knew the situation was not going to be too big for him. He was great. He accepted the challenge and went after it.”
“I was just trying to stay low in the zone, give my team ground balls, and let my defense work,” adds Traxel.
Knights storm back
To Greene’s credit, he quickly shook off the disappointment of the early 4-0 deficit and settled back into a commanding rhythm to the tune of a complete game, nine strikeout performance. And his teammates rallied around him, getting a run back in the fourth inning when Notre Dame sophomore designated hitter Michael Whiteside doubled and was subsequently batted in by senior infielder Derek Kramer.
The Knights generated another rally in the sixth inning, loading the bases against Traxel, whose arm was beginning to show signs of fatigue. Senior leftfielder Ryan McNabb made the score 4-2 when he singled to bring in Whiteside again. But Traxel, who delivered the clutch pitch in crucial situations all evening long, had one more big moment left, striking out the ensuing batter to get himself out of the bases loaded jam.
“Coach came to the mound to talk to me, and really woke me up; he took me back to reality and got me back to my mentality that I had at the beginning of the game,” recalls Traxel of the pivotal inning. “I lost it at the beginning of that inning, but was able to overcome it.”
But Notre Dame wasn’t done yet. In the do or die seventh inning, the Knights’ first three batters reached base on walks against Alemany junior closer Casey Horvat, who seemed visibly rattled as he struggled to find the strike zone. Senior infielder Jamie Robertson then brought a run home on an Alemany error, cutting the deficit to 4-3.
Just as Traxel had done in the inning before, however, Horvat settled down valiantly in the face of the bases loaded jam, inducing a shallow pop fly and then delivering two huge strikeouts.
“I felt the support of my teammates; I really wanted to get this win for them,” states Horvat. “We’ve been working so hard as a team. Coach lit a fire under me and really got me going. He just told me to air it out and trust my mechanics, because that’s when my best comes out. It was a great team win.”
“You’re gonna have flows throughout the game; you just have to take control of the things that you can have control over,” adds Thompson of his team’s composure late in the game. “We were able to refocus and get back to work. Horvat really showed some guts striking out the last two hitters.”
As this article hits the newsstands, Notre Dame is engaged in a three-game series with Crespi, while Alemany is in the middle of its own three-game series against St. Francis. With less than 10 games left in the regular season, the Warriors are confident.
“We have faith in one another, and build of each other’s energy,” says Lewis. “Everyone’s playing for the guy next to him. We keep building off of that.”