After leading the St. Xavier High School baseball team to its state-record seventh state championship last season, Tigers coach Andy Porta is eager for more.
“These kids know how much work it takes to return to Lexington to claim back-to-back state championships, and we fully expect to be challenging for our eighth title in June,” Porta said.
The state’s coaches expect St. X to challenge as well, as the Tigers are No. 1 in the state in the Kentucky High School Baseball Coaches Association’s preseason Top 20.
The Tigers return 13 players who were in the dugout for last year’s 1-0 victory over Campbell County in the state final, capping a 29-12 season. Included are six regular starters and six pitchers with varsity experience.
St. X features four seniors who already have signed with or committed to colleges – pitcher Connor Holden (6-1 record, 1.81 ERA, Murray State), outfielder Sam Hedges (.281 batting average, 17 RBIs, Northern Kentucky), outfielder Sam Mudd (.293, Southern Indiana) and infielder Chris Esselman (.278, Centre).
Pitcher/catcher/infielder Cam Scheler is one of the state’s top sophomores and had the game-winning hit in the Tigers’ 3-2 victory over McCracken County in last year’s state semifinal.
The Tigers are off to a 7-1 start this season and have shut out five of their opponents. Their only loss came to Trinity, 13-8, on Saturday.
Here’s a look at other Louisville-area teams (note: several schools did not respond to requests for information):
Beth Haven (4-10 in 2016) has a new coach in Glenn Collier, who will lean on junior pitchers Austin Streble and Dylan Kerr and freshman pitcher/infielder Dane Robertson.
Bullitt Central (14-17) has a combined 14 juniors and seniors on its roster, led by senior pitchers Ethan Moore (2-0, 2.92 ERA) and Cameron Campbell (2.10 ERA) and senior catcher Roby Schank.
Bullitt East (28-11) reached the state semifinals last year but this year “will be as young as we’ve ever been as we graduated a lot,” coach Jeff Bowles said. The Chargers will lean on four seniors who have committed to colleges – Matthew Bryant (Union), Jake Reece (Spalding), Mitchell Langley (Spalding) and Michael Lobred (Cumberlands).
Butler (19-14) will be led by a trio of seniors – infielder Austin Wise, pitcher/catcher Peyton Hood and pitcher/outfielder Ryan Luckett. Wise and Hood have committed to Tusculum College.
DeSales (17-23) was the regional runner-up last year and has a new on-campus stadium this season. The Colts have 11 seniors on the roster, led by pitcher/infielder Alec Brothers (.373, 26 RBIs).
Doss (2-21) looks to improve behind a trio of juniors – pitcher/catcher Johniel Morera, infielder Nick Sullivan and pitcher/first baseman Caleb Nelson. “We have no plans of losing by 38 this season,” said coach Chris Ryan, referring to a 41-3 loss to Kentucky Country Day last season.
Fairdale (22-9) hopes to return to the regional tournament for the third straight year behind senior Jordan Brock and juniors Josh Mifflin, David Parsons, Austin Price and Aaron Price.
Fern Creek (16-16) has seven returning starters, led by junior pitcher Patrick Ryan (2.73 ERA) and sophomore second baseman Isiah Noland (.343, 12 doubles).
Holy Cross (18-15) has a deep staff of senior pitchers led by Christian Schulten, Chase Phillips, Hunter Adams and Ray Steilberg. Coach Pat Wiegandt said the Cougars expect to contend for the All “A” Classic state title.
Iroquois (1-14) looks to improve behind a trio of seniors – pitcher/infielder Lamont Groves, pitcher Damon Richardson and first baseman Leton Bray.
North Bullitt (30-7-1) lost several top seniors who had reached 30 victories in three straight seasons, but coach Brian Wise has a solid returning trio in senior catcher/infielder Blake Benz (.351, 43 RBIs), senior first baseman Brady Keehn (.324, 25 RBIs) and junior pitcher Alec Lush (6-1, 1.57 ERA). Benz has signed with Kentucky Wesleyan.
No. 3 Pleasure Ridge Park (24-15) lost just one starter from last season and looks to be the front-runner for the regional title this year. The Panthers are led by junior left-hander Garrett Schmeltz (8-2, 0.67 ERA, 114 strikeouts), who has committed to Louisville.
Southern (16-20) has a new coach in John Hodges, who has just one senior on his roster. Hodges expects sophomore outfielder Justin Bowles and junior pitcher/infielder Jon Luk Cancel to be his team’s leaders.
Valley (8-17) will be led by senior pitcher/infielder Jackson Whitaker and junior pitcher/first baseman Caleb Elder.
Atherton (5-19) has a new coach in Nick Barte, who has 16 players back from last season. Top players include senior outfielder Will Shelton (transfer from Southern), junior first baseman Robbie Matney (.389), junior pitcher/infielder Griffin Odom, junior pitcher/outfielder Eric Kelso and senior infielder Mitch Cavaliere.
Ballard (21-13-1) will be led by the senior tandem of pitchers/outfielders Jordon Adell (University of Louisville signee) and Jordan Gunter (Centre commit). Adell is being projected as a first-round pick in June’s Major League Baseball Draft. Other top seniors for Ballard will be third baseman/pitcher Payton Bledsoe, catcher Jackson Millhollan, pitcher Andrew Moloney and shortstop Matt Lewis.
Central (6-16) returns three senior infielders in shortstop LaRon Logan (.390), third baseman Keith Hackett (.345) and second baseman Demonie DuLaney (.347). All three are pitchers as well.
Christian Academy (18-17) will be led by three seniors who have signed or committed to colleges – pitcher Johnny Allen (Wabash Valley), first baseman Luke Price (Purdue) and pitcher Aaron Blake (Spalding).
Eastern (11-22-1) has a new coach in T.J. Graves, who was the head coach at Southern the last five years. He has a trio of strong pitchers in seniors Gavin Sullivan (Louisville signee) and Kyle Nunn and junior Brendan Koester (Kentucky commit).
No. 14 Male (19-17) has the majority of its pitching back from last season but lost three returning starters to season-ending injuries. Senior pitcher/first baseman Noah Thompson (Lipscomb commit) returns after posting a 2.89 ERA and batting .275 last year. Other top seniors pitchers are Jared Leuthart (2.36 ERA, Transylvania commit), Jack Cameron (2.54 ERA, Wabash Valley commit) and Hogan Brownley (2.10 ERA).
Manual (20-16) will have an inexperienced team, coach Matt Timbario said. Seniors Quintin Bynum, Riley Noe and Keenan Bilyeu and junior Aaron Sary will be the leaders.
St. Francis has started a varsity program after what coach Tony Butler called “three successful years of baseball at the middle school level.” Freshman pitcher/infielder Connor Gorman and freshman catcher/second baseman Luke Borden will lead a program that will include several middle-schoolers.
Seneca (12-13) has a new coach in Bryan Clemmons, who will lean on senior pitcher/shortstop James House, senior infielder Matt Guffey, junior pitcher/outfielder Johnathan Kennedy, junior pitcher Dayton McQuilling and junior first baseman Mason Hauger.
No. 4 Trinity (29-7-1) returns a wealth of experience and should be in the mix for the Seventh Region and state titles. The pitching staff is anchored by seniors Brandon Pfaadt (9-1, 1.69 ERA, Bellarmine signee), Brody Heil (6-3, 1.88 ERA) and Price Adams (Wabash Valley commit). The offense will be anchored by senior outfielder Matt Higgins (.366, 28 RBIs, Bellarmine signee), senior shortstop Clayton Mehlbauer (Bellarmine commit) and junior catcher/infielder Ben Metzinger (.300, Louisville commit).
Waggener (12-18-1) has a new coach in Troy Frazier, who has just two starters back from last season’s team. Senior pitcher Jacob Frankel has solid career numbers on the mound (19-9, 2.24 ERA) and hit .418 last season. Senior pitcher/first baseman Justin Davis and junior infielder Austin Baldwin are other key players.
Collins (17-14-1) is the defending 30th District champion but must replace most of its pitching from last season. Senior pitcher Tanner Brown (Franklin College signee) and senior catcher Zane Brown lead the Titans.
North Oldham (15-20-1) will have one of the area’s top pitching staffs, led by senior Joe Boyle (Notre Dame signee), senior Bryce Barber (Asbury signee) and junior Seth Bacon. Boyle transferred to North Oldham from O’Fallon, Missouri. Senior shortstop Cameron Masterman has signed with Louisville.
Oldham County (30-8) is the defending regional champion and has a new coach in Levi Bristow. Junior outfielder Chris Seng is the only returning starter from last season.
South Oldham (24-11) has a new coach in Matt Walker, who has a pair of strong seniors in catcher/outfielder Tanner Johnson (.433, six home runs, 32 RBIs) and pitcher/first baseman Will Moriarty (.400, 28 RBIs, 1.50 ERA). Johnson has signed with Kentucky and Moriarty with Murray State.
MORE COVERAGE | Q&A with South Oldham’s Tanner Johnson
Jason Frakes can be reached at (502) 582-4046 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
KENTUCKY HIGH SCHOOL BASEBALL COACHES ASSOCIATION PRESEASON RANKINGS
Statewide Top 20 teams (first-place votes in parentheses): 1. St. Xavier (18), 2. McCracken County (4), 3. Pleasure Ridge Park (1), 4. Trinity, 5. Highlands, 6. Johnson Central (1), 7. Scott County, 8. Lexington Catholic, 9. Greenup County (1), 10. West Jessamine (1), 11. Warren East, 12. Bowling Green, 13. Somerset, 14. Male, 15. Lafayette, 16. LaRue County, 17. Caldwell County, 18. Campbell County, 19. Central Hardin, 20. Daviess County.
Preseason All-State team (Sixth Region selections): Mitchell Langley (Bullitt East); Garrett Schmeltz (Pleasure Ridge Park); Blake Benz (North Bullitt).
Preseason All-State team (Seventh Region selections): Jordan Gunter, Jordon Adell (Ballard); Ben Metzinger, Brody Heil, Brandon Pfaadt, Matt Higgins (Trinity); Cam Scheler, Sam Mudd, Connor Holden, Sam Hedges (St. Xavier); Noah Thompson (Male); Johnny Allen, Luke Price (Christian Academy); Aaron Sary (Manual); Gavin Sullivan, Brendan Koester (Eastern).
Preseason All-State team (Eighth Region selections): Tanner Johnson (South Oldham); Seth Hicks (Carroll County).