St. X baseball recently won its second state championship in three years and seventh overall. The Tigers hoisting the championship trophy at Whitaker Bank Ballpark exemplified how they diligently clawed through this season to be crowned as Kentuckyâ€™s best baseball program once more.
Coaches and players certainly wonâ€™t forget the narrative to this yearâ€™s title run. But in case you missed it, letâ€™s take a look back at St. Xâ€™s championship season.
The St. X program has always had experience, and Coach Andy Portaâ€™s goal isnâ€™t to rebuild but simply to reload. However, this season was a bit of an anomaly.
â€œThis year was more challenging early on,â€ says Porta. â€œIt seemed like we had a lot more injuries, and a couple kids battled mononucleosis. We had a little bit of turnover in the coaching staff, and it was a later development as a team. We had some growing pains and looked at different lineups, and it was the first time in my five years coaching that we had a freshman start for us.â€
Cameron Scheler was called from the junior varsity as a catcher and provided a boost for the varsity team when they had double-headers on weekends. In addition to that, junior varsity player Brandon Tucker, who didnâ€™t play an inning all year long for varsity, contributed immensely in the postseason.
â€œWe said this kid is one of our best base runners, and he came in courtesy ran for us, scored some runs and stole several bases. So that was kind of unique,â€ Porta adds.
An adjustment like that may have not been accepted on just any varsity team comprised of at least nine seniors, but this bunch of Tigers displayed a great sense of humility and a team-first mentality, giving no room for animosity.
Yet as they gelled as a unit, some criticism crept into the teamâ€™s atmosphere. Under Coach Porta, St. X has gone to the state tournament four of the last five years, so the expectation was to remain a premier state powerhouse. But after an 8-8 start, Porta says people began to write St. X off and say that this was a down year for them.
â€œWe knew what we were doing. We were playing a challenging schedule, looking at some younger kids and dealing with some injuries. As a coaching staff, we challenged ourselves and our kids to use what the community said as motivation.â€
The turning point in the season was a weekend in May when St. X got dismantled by their archrival Trinity in a 10-0 shutout loss. The next day, they traveled to Paducah, where they were handed a consecutive loss by McCracken County.
The Tigers showed some resilience and realized that hurt and pain donâ€™t last forever. With an unwavering amount of perseverance, St. X turned a minor setback into a major comeback.
â€œWe saw them mature,â€ Porta asserts. â€œThe fact that the kids realized they played terribly against Trinity â€“ they didnâ€™t forget that the sun comes up tomorrow and we get to play baseball again. As a coaching staff, we never loss faith in them. We knew they had the ability; they just had to gain some confidence.
â€œThat Friday and Saturday, we did a lot of bonding, spending three and four hours on bus rides. We could see some of the pieces falling into place, and kids were starting to gain some confidence. Since that game, we didnâ€™t lose and we went on a roll.â€
The team went on to ride the momentum of a 12-game winning streak to become state champion. Pitching and defense were their two strongest suits all year, and both were at their finest in the game that meant the most all season. In the championship game, they held Campbell County scoreless in a 1-0 defeat.
But of course, given the standards of athletic success set by St. X, such triumph is to some degree expected. â€œYou put pressure on yourself because of the success that weâ€™ve had. We have to keep outworking people and keep the success. We donâ€™t want to have 18 seniors on the roster one year, push for a championship and then have a rebuilding year after that. Ever since I have been coaching, we have had a good mix of seniors and juniors. So itâ€™s not an internal pressure from administration, but for us, it is an expectation. We expect to be competitive, we expect to be in that regional championship every year and we really expect to get to Lexington.â€
The Tigers expectations certainly came to fruition this season. While sitting on the throne and reflecting on this title run, theyâ€™ll savor the moment as they look to defend their crown next season. VT