Alex Roche played a supporting role off the bench a year ago for the Br. Rice baseball team, all the while knowing his turn would come.
When he got his chance, Roche made the most of it.
Hitting in the middle of the lineup and playing first base, Roche helped lead the Crusaders to the 2019 summer state title.
Now with the spring season on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he’s just hoping he can take the field with his teammates for a shortened season in May and June.
“We’re keeping high hopes as a team,” Roche said. “You try not to think about it that you might not play. We hope we get to play for a few weeks and play the season in May.”
Coming off a 25-13 season in 2019, the Crusaders lost a handful of key seniors to graduation, many of them heading to Division-I universities to continue their baseball careers.
But, playing with a scrappy, small-ball mentality built around manufactured runs, a deep pitching staff and a solid defense, Br. Rice rolled through the summer on the way to the state title.
Whenever the 2020 season does come around, senior catcher Jack Payton (Louisville) will be ready to unleash that tweaked attack.
“We don’t have a lot of home-run guys,” Payton said. “We’re going to need to hit doubles, move runners over and play small ball. We’re going to win a lot of games. It’s a great group of guys. We’ve probably got 12, 13 guys who will get a shot to play.”
A three-year varsity starter, Payton will be the cornerstone of the lineup, but Coach Sean McBride has plenty of options up and down the batting order.
Senior third baseman Dylan Robertson, senior middle infielder Marquis Jackson, Roche, senior outfielder Connor King, sophomore outfielder Jack Lausch and senior infielder Jack Landmesser are key returning players offensively.
Newcomers to the varsity including a trio of talented juniors, including outfielder Cameron Hill, catcher/first baseman Luke Lawrence and middle infielder Nate Mosqueda, and sophomore outfielder Nick Daugherty.
“We’re very deep with position players. Last year, we had 5 to 6 everyday guys in the lineup,” McBride said. “This year, we’ve got 7 and 8, and we can mix and match and play the hot hand. It will be a different year. We’ve got 15 guys who can contribute.”
McBride is equally as excited about the Crusaders’ potential on the mound. The pitching staff may lack that one dominant ace, but Br. Rice has plenty of arms ready to take the ball.
Lausch, junior southpaw Mike Bernas, junior Sebastian Barrera and senior Jake Sullivan are returning pitchers. Seniors Luke Whirity and Micah Gouwens and junior Ben Guzek are also expected to contribute.
Roche is excited to see what the young staff can do.
“Since my freshman year, we’ve always been able to hit and score a lot of runs,” Roche said. “We’ve lacked that pitching depth though. These young guys have really stepped up. We’ve got some guys who can really throw. It’s awesome to see.”
With the potential of a shortened season, McBride knows lack of pitching won’t be a problem.
“We’ve got a lot of options on the mound, some young guys who are very gifted,” McBride said. “We’ve got some good seniors and a lot of juniors and sophomores who can throw. When games stack up, you’re concerned about not having enough arms. That won’t be a concern for us. We feel good about our pitching.”
With the season in a wait-and-see mode as the country battles the coronavirus, the Crusaders are doing what teams are doing across the state—individual workouts at home—all in the hopes of the pandemic clearing up enough in the coming weeks.
No matter, Payton is staying positive.
“It’s tough not playing, but everyone needs to be as safe as possible,” Payton said. “Everyone has been putting in their own work, and we’re all working to get better every day. Everyone is staying positive, and whenever the season starts, we’re working and we’ll be baseball ready.”