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St. John's has a mound of talent

05/08/2014, 12:00am EDT
By STEVE JUNGA BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Strong pitching has Titans rolling toward TRAC crown

Mound of talent for St. John's baseball

St. John’s is 13-2, 6-0 in the Three Rivers Athletic Conference behind senior pitchers, from left, Jacek Czerwinski, Nolan Silberhorn, and Collin Korte. THE BLADE/LORI KING

An old cliché in baseball is that good pitching beats good hitting.

If that’s the case, St. John’s Jesuit appears to be fully armed in its quest for a Three Rivers Athletic Conference championship, and deep Division I tournament run.

In somewhat of a mound trifecta, the Titans (13-2, 6-0 TRAC) might have the top three starting pitchers in the conference with seniors Nolan Silberhorn, Collin Korte, and Jacek Czerwinski, a hard-throwing trio with a wealth of experience.

“It’s a great problem to have,” second-year Titans coach Greg Christian said. “We have a 1A, 1B, and 1C [starting rotation], and we don’t try to map it out too much until we get to the tournament. When it’s your turn to throw, you throw. We’re comfortable with any of the three.

“They’re all seniors, and this is the third year on the varsity [full time] for Nolan and Collin. All three of them can get breaking pitches over. They can throw any pitch at any time. It’s a great luxury.”

Beyond that, St. John’s has additional depth on its pitching staff, with capable spot starters and relief arms.

“We have other pitchers too, and it’s contagious,” Christian said. “When they get in they want to make sure they do well. They’re feeding off each other right now.”

This wealth of pitching complements one of the area’s top batting lineups, one that is hitting .392 as a team.

This roster makeup has Christian confident in his team’s chances any time the Titans take the field. If there was any doubt in that regard, it may have been resolved nearly two weeks ago when St. John’s played two of the state’s top-ranked D-I teams at the Jesuit Tournament in the Cleveland area.

St. John’s topped sixth-ranked Cleveland St. Ignatius 8-4 and led 5-3 in the sixth inning against second-ranked Walsh Jesuit before falling 6-5.

“I’m very happy with where we’re at right now,” Christian said. “We went there [with the mentality] that we were going to find out how good we were. We found out we can compete with schools like that.”

Silberhorn, who pitched some varsity innings his freshman and sophomore years, has been a varsity regular (pitcher and first base) for three seasons. He has signed to play at the University of Toledo next year.

“We’re very fortunate to have the staff we have — and not just us three, but the whole staff,” the 6-foot-4, 200-pound Silberhorn said. “We have guys who can come in as starters or closers or middle relief guys. We’re very flexible, and we’re blessed to have three dominant guys that we can count on any day.”

Silberhorn is 4-0 with an 0.34 ERA, and has allowed 15 hits and six walks with 28 strikeouts in 27 innings. At the plate, he is hitting .500 (9 for 18) with nine RBIs.

Korte, a lefty who has committed to play at Adrian, is 3-0 with a 4.43 ERA, and 18 hits and 15 walks allowed plus 18 strikeouts in 22 innings.

“The experience is definitely a factor,” said the 6-1, 185-pound Korte. “Once I played my first couple games as a sophomore everything kind of came naturally to me. All the jitters went away.

“We’re competitive with each other. We don’t get mad at each other, it’s more like ‘I had a better outing than you last time, try to beat that.’ ”

So who’s the best?

“I don’t know,” Korte said. “It’s a toss-up right now.”

Czerwinski, who battled through some early-season shoulder soreness, is 2-0 with an 0.43 ERA and 17 hits and nine walks allowed plus 18 strikeouts in 21 innings.

“The fact that we have a 1, 2, and 3 that could be aces on any other team is nice,” Czerwinski said. “When [Silberhorn or Korte] go out there, I’m comfortable with them. I always know they’re going to produce and perform well.

“We always want to outperform each other. We know it’s a team, but we always have that little inside competition. It’s fun.”

Added Silberhorn: “We have fun with [the competition] and it makes us all better. It’s nothing too serious, but it keeps us on our toes for sure.”

Other pitchers include seniors Luke Vollmar, Jeremy O’Brien, and Pete Burkett, and juniors Brock Conner, Chandler Dippman, and closer T. J. Lake.

St. John’s has limited opposing batters to a .211 batting average and boasts a staff ERA of 2.07. The collective command has led to a respectable average of just 16 pitches thrown per inning.

Leading the offensive attack is catcher Mike Barrett, who is hitting .615 (24 for 39) with one home run and 21 RBIs.

After Silberhorn’s .500 mark, the next top hitters have been third baseman Dippman (.480, 12 for 25), outfielder Alex Gum (.436, 17 for 39), second baseman Ethan Kirkman (.386, 17 for 44), first baseman Burkett (.378, 14 for 37), designated hitter Sam McClurg (.375, 15 for 40, 12 RBIs), outfielder Lake (.342, 13 for 38), and shortstop Devon Garcia (.327, 17 for 52, 12 RBIs).

What has likely helped both the pitching and batting numbers has been a strategy posed by Titans pitching coach Mickey Cassidy, who keeps his starting pitchers out of the batting lineup when they’re on the mound.

“It’s more of a mental thing,” said Cassidy, a shortstop/​pitcher on the 2004 St. John’s team that reached the D-I regional finals. “The approach is, if you don’t have to worry about stuff at the plate, it takes less of a toll on you mentally out on the mound.

“We’ve got enough hitters in our lineup top to bottom that they can make up for anything that we would lose in the lineup.”

Cassidy’s goal for his pitchers is simple: throw strikes, work from ahead in the count, and make the opposing batters earn their place on base.

“We preach it for day one,” Cassidy said. “We’ve got a pretty talented staff from top to bottom, and the only way teams are going to stay in the game with us the way our offense has been hitting, is if we’re walking people.”

Contact Steve Junga at: sjunga@theblade.com, or 419-724-6461 or on Twitter@JungaBlade.

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