Drew Place

Crystal City catcher Drew Place tags out a Valley Park runner at home plate during Saturday’s game. The Hornets were buzzing on offense all day in their 13-3 win.

Batting lefthanded in the sixth inning, Bassin launched a rocket that sailed foul past the left-field fence into the backyard of a house bordering the Hornets’ field.

Moments later, Bassin was hit by a pitch as the Hawks never found a way to keep him off the bases. The next batter, Cyle Schaumburg, singled to drive home Ian Kirn with the game-ending run in a 13-3 mercy-rule victory.

“I was seeing the ball well, I was putting the barrel (of the bat) on it and I capitalized with guys on base,” said Bassin, who plays shortstop. “I had a lot of help from my teammates.”

Junior Nate Pruneau scored the Hornets’ first run when he walked and was driven home by Bassin. Pruneau had an RBI single and scored in Crystal City’s three-run second inning and he relieved starting pitcher Clayton Roussin in the fourth inning with two Hawks aboard. Pruneau struck out the first batter he faced and got a pop up to second base with the bases loaded to end the inning. Valley Park loaded the bases again with nobody out in the fifth, but Pruneau struck out the side, two of those on 3-2 counts.

The Hornets stretched their lead to 9-1 with five runs in the third. Chase Coleman and Bassin doubled in the inning. Kirn walked to lead off the fifth and Bassin smashed a two-run home run to center field in the next at-bat.

“It was a pitch that was inside and low and it caught the barrel. I’m excited about that one,” Bassin said.

With the win, Crystal improved to 2-1 following a season-opening 10-0 loss to Arcadia Valley and a 7-5 victory over South Iron.

There’s more excitement than usual for the Hornets’ players, their parents and fans this season with the hiring of Zach Weiss as their new head coach. Weiss played for Windsor and Rock Memorial Post 283’s American Legion team. His father, David Weiss, coached the Owls and Rock for many years and was inducted into the St. Louis Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame in 2010.

With the way he managed Saturday’s victory, the younger Weiss already has made an impression on his team.

“Oh my gosh, Coach Weiss absolutely flipped the program,” said Bassin. “He’s amazing, the energy he brings. He knows about baseball and he’s always on our backs trying to make us the best players we could be. I already love him to death.”

Weiss was the head coach at Hillsboro for two years (2015-2016) before becoming a police officer for the St. Louis County Police Department. His heart was always beating baseball, however.

“I missed coaching like crazy. It was pulling at me to get back,” he said. “This opportunity came open. I coach these guys in the fall during football with (Crystal City head coach) Dan Fox. It’s been a really good transition.

“I don’t talk about leaving the police very often because it’s something I miss every day. I see those guys quite a bit. I feel very strongly about supporting law enforcement. For me it was a phenomenal experience, but this is my passion and it’s better for my family. I’m very fortunate being part of the Crystal City community.”

Bassin is one of a few Hornets who played in 2019, before being denied that opportunity last year because of COVID-19. Weiss said Bassin has become a team leader.

“Hunter’s one of those kids where you try not to use the word irreplaceable, but he’s that guy for us,” Weiss said. “He’s a tremendous leader all of the kids look up to. He’s multi-dimensional. He’s putting the bat on the ball really well right now. Hopefully that continues.”

While the Valley Park pitchers struggled to find the strike zone, Roussin fanned six Hawks and Pruneau rang up five. The only statistic the Hawks won was in errors; they had three while Crystal committed four.

“(Roussin) throws a lot of strikes and mixes a second pitch and shows a third one,” Weiss said. “He threw more pitches than we would have liked in 3 1/3 innings. But at the end of the day he’s learning and his defense needs to help him out a little bit. We’re still learning how to play with a lead but we’re getting there.”

In 2019, the Hornets were shut out 15-0 by Valle Catholic in the Class 2 District 4 semifinals, ending a 2-13 season. Their last winning season was in 2014, when they were 13-12. Class and district assignments haven’t been determined yet for 2021.

Young Eagles taste early success in 2021

After missing the 2020 season because of the coronavirus, Grandview baseball head coach Jeff Ketcherside wanted to make sure the Eagles were ready to play this spring.

So for three weeks, the team practiced three hours a day, six days a week.

That work paid immediate dividends when Grandview (1-1) edged St. Vincent 8-7 on March 26 at Perryville in a Jefferson County Activities Association small-schools game. Ketcherside said it was the first time in his seven years as the Eagles’ coach they’ve beaten the Indians. Grandview scored six runs in the fifth inning, just enough to hold off the hosts, who plated five runs in the final two innings.

“It’s a pretty big win for us,” Ketcherside said. “St. Vincent always has good programs in all of their sports. But just because we beat them on Friday, St. Paul Lutheran won’t care about that when we play them (Monday after the Leader deadline).”

Junior Eric O’Brien started his first varsity game on the mound for the Eagles and pitched into the fifth inning, allowing five hits, four earned runs and four walks while striking out six. He also starts in center field and leads off the batting order.

“He threw a lot more pitches than I wanted him to,” Ketcherside said. “Having a year off, I want to watch the pitch counts.”

Sophomore Levi Lalonde relieved O’Brien in the fifth and gave up two runs and struck out two before being lifted for sophomore Trenton Cookerly with one out in the seventh. Cookerly yielded one run but no hits or walks and earned the save.

“I threw him into the fire right off the bat. The last play was a grounder to him,” Ketcherside said.

“The sophomores are like a second freshmen class. Do I think I know what they can do? Yeah. (Cookerly) lives and breathes baseball. I had Lalonde on a short leash in the seventh and brought in Trenton to get all three outs. He got the job done.”

Lalonde was the starting pitcher in Grandview’s opening game, a 10-0 loss at Bismarck.

“He’s trying to find his groove,” Ketcherside said.

Grandview’s patience at the plate against St. Vincent made the difference as the Eagles got only three hits but drew 12 walks. O’Brien walked four times and he and Lalonde each scored two runs.

“The main thing I stress when you get two strikes is to keep battling,” Ketcherside said. “Get a pitch you can drive or draw a walk. With our team speed, a walk can turn into a double or triple. They battle hard at the plate with two strikes. Until you see them display it, you don’t know if it’s sinking in.”

Junior Austin Gallaway will pitch this season and play catcher when he’s not on the hill. The rest of the infield consists of sophomore Jayce Poole at first base, junior Clayton Riddle at second, junior Chase Wilson at shortstop and freshman Kody Fox at third. Sophomore Caleb Peterson plays second base and in the outfield.

It’s a group of talented athletes. Poole plays for De Soto SMCI’s American Legion team in the summer. Riddle starts at quarterback for the Eagles and helped lead them to their best season in a decade last fall. Wilson was a top rusher in football and scorer in basketball and plays for Festus Post 253 in the summer.

“As good as Chase is in basketball and football, I think he’s best at baseball,” Ketcherside said. “I could play him anywhere. He could start at catcher for any team in the county.”

Fox made a couple of errors against the Indians but Ketcherside said the freshman is ready to be a full-time varsity player.

“He’s a gamer and a tough kid. I’ll be glad to see him grow.”

In the outfield are Lalonde in left, O’Brien in center and Alex Massey, the only senior starter on the team, in right.

The Eagles finished 4-13-1 in 2019, losing a tight 5-2 game to West County in the Class 3 District 3 playoffs. West County shut out St. Pius X and Herculaneum in the next two rounds and won the district title.

“I go into a season in any sport with the same goal, and that’s to play our best at the end of the year,” Ketcherside said. “Grandview baseball was down for a while and we’re trying to build a program, not just one team. The kids want to win now. They’re tired of getting beat by county schools. They had some success in football. Basketball didn’t go the way they thought it would because Chase got sick and missed part of the season.”

Younger Blue Jays struggle out of the gate

Trailing Priory 7-3 in the seventh inning in the third-place game of its own tournament Saturday, Jefferson mounted a rally that was too little and too late.

Senior Colby Ott got it started with a single and stole second base. Dawson Jakoubek drove in Ott with a single and reached third base after Will Schnitzler was walked and Sam Stokes reached on an error. The comeback ended with the bases loaded as Jefferson lost its fourth straight game after opening the season with a 6-0 shutout over Bishop DuBourg.

“Our guys fought back and never gave up,” Jefferson head coach Robert Kuehnle said. “We didn’t get the ball to drop like we wanted to, but I think there’s good things in our future.”

Two springs ago, before COVID-19 forced the cancellation of spring sports in 2020, the Blue Jays entered the Class 3 District 3 tournament as the No. 1 seed with a record of 17-3. But behind the pitching of Jordan Duncan, Herculaneum eliminated Jefferson 2-1 in the semifinals.

Seniors Colby Ott, Nolan Roth, Dylan Schnitzler and Daylen Whitener are the holdovers from that 2019 team that won the Jefferson County Activities Association small-schools championship with a record of 5-0. Ott was a first-team all-JCAA small-schools selection after leading Jefferson in batting average (.459), RBIs (25) and stolen bases (17). He and Schnitzler give the Blue Jays game-changing speed on the bases.

“We expect Colby to produce at the plate and want to make sure he locks down the shortstop position,” Kuehnle said. “He’s a great player and athlete and I think he’s going to do great things.

“We’ve got a lot of speed and athleticism. Speed is a very good weapon to have on offense and I think we’ll capitalize on that this year.”

Jefferson’s infield depth chart shows Will Schnitzler behind the plate, Whitener and Colton Richardson at first base, Jack Hueter and Ethan Boyer at second and Jakoubek and Stokes at third. In the outfield are Roth, Boyer, Richardson, Dylan Schnitzler and Luke Labruyere.

Freshman pitcher Cole Robinson got his first varsity start against Priory. He walked the first two Ravens he faced and then gave up an RBI single. Robinson walked five batters before being relieved by Stokes with two outs and the bases loaded in the second inning. Stokes assisted on the third out to end the threat.

“We’re expecting great things from him,” Kuehnle said of his young pitcher. “This was his first varsity start against a very good Priory team. He did the best he could and gave us a chance to win and that’s all you can ask from young guys.”

Kuehnle said that while the Blue Jays don’t have a true staff ace, he’d like Dylan Schnitzler and Whitener to pitch 140 innings apiece this season. As a sophomore, Whitener had a record of 4-0 with a 1.50 earned run average over 18 and two-thirds innings.

Will Schnitzler is handling the pitchers and Kuehnle said he’s blocking balls at the plate much better than two years ago.

“He’s throwing guys out and slowing the other team’s run game down,” Kuehnle said.

In the shutout of DuBourg, Dylan Schnitzler struck out 10 and didn’t allow a hit in four innings of work. He also contributed at the plate with two hits and scored twice. Stokes had two hits and three RBIs and Jakoubek, who plays offensive line and middle linebacker during football season, stole two bases.

The other three Jefferson losses to start the season came against St. Pius (3-1), Arcadia Valley (9-2) and perennial powerhouse Valle Catholic (14-4).

The Blue Jays will have to count on underclassmen to help them win this year.

“We have a bunch of sophomores who haven’t played varsity yet and are learning to do the little things to win,” Kuehnle said.

Lancers fall in 11 innings

Hired two years ago to be the head coach for baseball and football, Dan Oliver guided St. Pius X on the gridiron for two seasons before coaching one baseball game.

That’s because COVID-19 wiped out the entire spring sports schedule in 2020, prohibiting three Lancers from getting to play their senior seasons. There are quite a few holdovers from the 2019 St. Pius squad that boasted four all-Jefferson County Activities Association small-schools first teamers, finished 17-3 and lost to eventual Class 3 District 3 champion West County in the semifinals.

Back on the field in 2021, the Lancers (2-2) beat Bishop DuBourg 32-0 and Jefferson before falling to Potosi. West County beat them 5-4 in 11 innings in the championship game of the Jefferson Tournament on Saturday.

Senior first baseman Zander Parson had two doubles, junior Nathan Stoll had a double and two RBIs, and junior Nathan Schwer had two hits, drew a walk and drove in a run to pace the St. Pius attack. West County pitching struck out 15 Lancers.

Parson’s physical transformation since he was a sophomore has helped him become a standout in football, basketball and baseball. He plays baseball during the summer for Festus Post 253 American Legion and the two months of hot summer nights playing first base has helped Parson (6-6) acclimate straight into football. Parson had limited at-bats as a sophomore, and in 15 plate appearances this season, he’s batting .286.

“He’s not just a big guy standing out there, he’s got some range,” Oliver said. “He got an unassisted double play (this season) because he jumped out and got a ball in the hole, the runner turned around and went back to first and he tagged him and the bag to get us out of that inning.

“He leaned up for basketball. Playing football for two years has made him more aggressive and he grew up and became a senior.”

Like Parson, junior Austin Almany was on the 2019 team but saw limited action. Almany starts at catcher this season and Oliver said he’s already being viewed as a top player in the state. Almany is batting .273 with three RBIs.

Continuing with strong defense up the middle is sophomore shortstop Andrew Merseal, who’s scored three runs and driven in three.

“He has played great defense for us at shortstop and he’s going to continue to get better,” Oliver said. “The outfield’s been solid and (senior) Chase Marnin’s on the sideline and we’d like to get him in more.”

In a 3-1 win against Jefferson on March 20, junior Tate Ramey pitched a complete game in an economical three-hit performance. Ramey also had a hit and RBI in the win. The Lancers have as many players listed as pitchers as some teams have in an entire lineup.

“He kept hanging in there and we got him some runs and got out of there with a win,” Oliver said of Ramey’s win against Jefferson.

“We’ve had good pitching and we’ve hit the ball well. I feel like our defense has been solid. We have to get to know each other better. As we do that, hopefully things will fall into place.”

Oliver said the damage done by lack of a season last spring is still to be determined.

“We’ll see how difficult it was, or maybe it wasn’t,” he said. “I have a learning curve too because I hadn’t coached baseball in awhile. I feel like I have plenty of support. It’s a good group of kids who want to play and are ready to go.”

That learning curve encompasses all aspects of baseball this year.

“Whether it’s the umpire has his strike zone where he wants it to be,” Oliver said. “Are we looking for the right pitches to hit? You get excited because you’re playing again, but you have to control that and play like you practice.”

Blackcats’ leader part of legacy

High school baseball is being played this spring, but the specter of COVID-19, which wiped out last year’s schedule, is sure to occasionally rear its ugly head.

Herculaneum was scheduled to play St. Mary’s last week, but the Dragons canceled because of virus concerns so new Blackcat head coach Ryan Dickerman took to social media and other electronic avenues to find a replacement opponent.

Cape Girardeau Central answered the call and Herculaneum (1-2) traveled to southeast Missouri and fell 6-2 to the Tigers.

After not getting to play last year, the Blackcats and most other teams have taken the approach of “play them where and when you can.”

Dickerman, a 2004 Herculaneum graduate, played for Andy Runzi and was Zac Bone’s assistant for eight years with the Blackcats. Bone stepped away from the job last year when he was hired to be the head coach of the Jefferson College baseball team. Runzi skippered Herculaneum to the Class 3A state championship in 1999.

“People care about this program a lot and it’s important to me to hold that standard,” Dickerman said.

The cancellation of the season in 2020 meant Jordan Duncan, Luke Teague, Greg Rose and Chance Jenkins didn’t get to play their senior years. Duncan, who was all-Jefferson County Activities Association small-schools first team as a pitcher and infielder in 2019,  joined Bone at Jeffco, but Dickerman said the younger players on the team this season didn’t get the exposure to the work ethic and talent the four seniors would have provided.

“It would have been huge for our season if we could have watched those four seniors go about their business and play last year,” Dickerman said.

Against Central, Dickerman inserted two freshmen, five sophomores, a junior and a senior in the starting lineup. Through three games, Dickerman said his fielders are having a hard time catching fly balls.

“We’ve got guys who came out who haven’t played baseball in a while,” he said. “We’re throwing a lot at the kids to see what works best for us.”

Senior Cole Myers was the JCAA’s small-schools division first-team catcher in 2019 after batting .424 and tying Duncan for the team lead with eight doubles and adding 20 RBIs. Myers has committed to play baseball for the Vikings. He’s thrown out three base runners trying to steal so far this season.

“He’s the best in the business, if you ask me,” Dickerman said. “He’s a game-changer behind the plate. He’s sound at blocking baseballs. He gets a good feel with each pitcher. Very few teams will try to run on us.”

Another starter from the 2019 squad is senior Bryce Hall, who plays left field, pitches and bats third. Hall was a second-team outfielder as a sophomore when he hit .362 with 19 RBIs and had a record of 2-2 in 22 innings of work on the mound. Hall won’t get to play many Saturday games this year because he attends Jefferson College’s ATS school for firefighter training. He was the starting pitcher in the season-opener against Priory. The Ravens won 9-0.

“He could have worked ahead in the count a little more, but we didn’t field the ball behind him,” Dickerman said.

Sophomores Dylan Jarvis and Dylan Black play first base. Black also patrols shortstop. Sophomores Jackson Dearing and Rick Johnson are at second base and junior Cody Gibson mans the hot corner at third.

Dickerman said he’s still experimenting with outfield combinations but so far, freshman Devin Black, Dylan’s brother, is in center field, along with Dearing and Hall in left. Freshmen Jacob Moreland and Chase Payne will get playing time.

“We’re at the point defensively where we tell them whoever catches the ball will get to play,” Dickerman said.

Herculaneum beat West County 2-1 for its win.

Both of Herky’s runs against West County were from Hall’s two sacrifice flies. Dylan Black was the starting pitcher against the Bulldogs and Tigers.

“He’s been our best pitcher so far,” Dickerman said.

The Blackcats were the No. 5 seed in the Class 3 District 3 tournament in 2019 and lost in the district championship to the Bulldogs, who lost 7-6 to Saxony Lutheran in the state quarterfinals.