Sunday, May 4, 2003

Ignorance is bliss for Thomas More


Young baseball team off to rousing start

By Ryan Ernst
The Cincinnati Enquirer

At the beginning of the season, Thomas More baseball coach Jeff Hetzer said his team was too young to realize it wasn't that great. That, he thought, was a good thing.

Two months, almost 30 wins and a school record for runs later, however, Hetzer says his team is better and much more aware than he initially thought.

And that, he thinks, might be a better thing.

"They've made a believer out of me," he said. "With a team this young, your expectations aren't as high.

"Obviously, we expect to win here, but this has been surprising. I still don't think anyone's told them they weren't supposed to win this many games."

The Saints, composed of just six juniors and seniors to go along with 21 freshmen and sophomores, are ranked 21st in Division III. Going into their final four games of the regular season, they had bettered the school's single-season run record by 10 and at 28-7 were creeping up on the school's single-season record for wins (32).

They average 10.3 runs per game, third in the nation.

The idea of scoring a lot of runs in college baseball is not a novel one, but it's the way Thomas More scores that's interesting.

In an age when aluminum bats have turned the game into a home run derby, the Saints play more of an old-school game. Although they've set a school record for home runs, Hetzer's philosophy is still get 'em over, get 'em in.

"We're a gap-to-gap type team and we have a couple guys in the top of the order that can steal some bases," Hetzer said. "We don't do things we can't do. We hit and run and we put the ball in play. Before you know it, it's first and third with no outs."

And it doesn't matter which part of the lineup is batting. The Saints hit .365 as a team. Their No. 9 hitter has a .323 average - worst of all the regular starters.

Imagine how the team's pitchers feel.

"It's nice," senior right-hander Eric England (5-1) said. "It takes a whole lot of pressure off. Basically, all we have to do is throw strikes and keep the ball in the park and we've got a good chance to win the ballgame."

And the Saints have to win, a lot. Because Thomas More is without a conference, it competes with more than 70 other teams nationwide for seven independent bids to the NCAA Tournament.

With the season winding down, Thomas More looks like a virtual lock to make the second tournament appearance in program history.

"I'd be lying if I said I was expecting this," Hetzer said. "We've definitely overachieved, and it's been a special year. The great thing is they're young."

Too young to realize the NCAA Tournament isn't a midseason doubleheader? Ask the team's top slugger, freshman catcher Fred Riess.

"I feel like our team chemistry is great right now and I wouldn't change a thing," he said. "Before time is up for all us younger guys, I don't think a national championship is out of the question. Even though I don't know what the tournament is like, I think we're good enough."

Others

• Northern Kentucky softball players Krystal Lewallen, Angie Lindeman and Megan Owens were named to the Great Lakes Valley Conference first team. Lewallen, a pitcher, was named the conference freshman of the year.

• Xavier right-handed pitcher Jarret Sues was named the Atlantic 10 pitcher of the week after shutting out 15th-ranked Richmond in a 1-0 Xavier win.

• Xavier tennis player Lauren Clary was named to the A-10 all-conference team after posting a 26-8 record.

• Sycamore graduate Mike Gulker was 10-for-18 in five games for Yale and was named the Ivy League player of the week.

• University of Cincinnati tennis player Khushchehr Italia was named to the Conference USA third team after posting a 20-17 record.

• Lakota West graduate Ashley Jones, now a tennis player at Ohio Northern, was named to the Ohio Athletic Conference first team.

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E-mail rernst@enquirer.com




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