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Abel, Jesuit baseball roar to 11-0 win over Aloha

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Defending Class 6A state champion Crusaders ready to embark on playoff voyage

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Jesuit freshman pitcher Mick Abel threw a complete game gem against Aloha on May 12 to help the Crusaders cruise to a 11-0 win.

Treacherous teams like Jesuit are why the postseason is both intoxicating and precarious for state title contenders.

The Crusaders are exactly the sort of squad you don't want to see in the first or second round. Their aggressive, menacing baserunning requires a defense to be completely in tune with one another or at least a catcher with a k-gun for an arm. Jesuit's self-controlled patience at the plate piles up opposing hurler's pitch counts and chases them from ball games prematurely. It takes a true ace to escape the Crusaders' grating, scrappy tactics at the plate. Armed with a championship pedigree after last year's sprint to a Class 6A state championship crown, Jesuit's playoff wherewithal is proven.

And their pitching staff, while relatively young and inexperienced, is brimming with electric arms such as freshman Mick Abel who possess clear-as-day Division One promise and the sort of scary present day ability that can shut down the toughest of lineups.

Has Jesuit dealt with its fair share of ups and downs this season? Yes. The Crusaders' longest winning streak of the regular season was just three games as Jesuit's uneven play lent itself to a 9-7 record in the Metro League and a sixth-place conference finish. Young players adjusting to one of the better leagues in the state will do that.

But, sitting at No. 20 in the 6A power rankings, the defending state champions are better than their standing and capable of spoiling a perfectly good season with their potion of play style, pitching and overall approach to the game. At 13-13 overall, Jesuit's mark might not catch the attention of their to be determined first round foe, which is fine with the Crusaders who could catch a top seed slipping.

"Come playoff time, records don't really matter anymore," Jesuit junior infielder Ennis Ferguson said. "I think we've really built up to be playoff ready and at this point, I think we're ready to make a good, deep run. We're pretty confident right now. Eventually, we want to take the state championship, but we're really focused on just taking it a game at a time."

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Jesuit sophomore Skyler Loverink hit an RBI single to left field against Aloha.

Against Aloha on March 11 in an 11-0 triumph, all that entails and describes Jesuit's capability was on full display. Abel was a beast, throwing a complete game shutout with 10 strikeouts and just three hits allowed. And Jesuit's offense dictated the game's pace, stealing eight bases while scoring five runs with two outs overall. Ferguson's two-out RBI double gave Jesuit a 3-0 lead in the top of the first. And the left-handed hitting Skyler Loverink laced an opposite field single to score Ferguson from second to extend the lead to 4-0. Aloha, a week after locking up Century and encompassing the field with stellar defense, struggled to curb the Crusaders' aggression on the bases.

"As a team, we like to have a good tempo whether it's pitching or at the plate," Ferguson said. "We try to keep a team on their heels a little bit. We like to keep the game going at our speed. We're comfortable that way. We like a quick game."

Abel's pitching methods are the antithesis of Jesuit's diligent rituals at the dish. While the Crusader hitters work the count, take timeouts to read get the sign from head coach Colin Griffin at third base and step away from the plate to interfere with a pitcher's rhythm, Abel works at a warp speed on the mound. When Aloha didn't have anyone on base, Abel would throw with his textbook delivery, get the ball back from catcher Brian Sheerin and throw again in approximately five seconds. No reluctance, no confusion with his battery mate, just all gas. Abel's antagonistic style drew the ire of the Aloha faithful sitting behind home plate who felt the home plate umpire catered to the pitcher's pell-mell method and let the dominant righty control the flow of the game. In reality, Abel just worked at a rapid-fire cadence, striking out the side in the bottom of the first and bottom of the sixth innings.

"I just wanted to be a tiger out there," Abel said. "I wanted to be the aggressor, make (Aloha) mad, make sure they weren't gonna hit the ball. This year I haven't been as aggressive. I've been more composed and now I'm just really trying to show my aggression. As the season's kept going and the pressure keeps building going into the playoffs, I've gotten better each time I've pitched."

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Jesuit head coach Colin Griffin and the Class 6A state champion Crusaders will begin the posteason in 10 days.

Abel's mode is more comparable to Jesuit's baserunning: always attacking, always coming right at an opponent and pushing the limits.

"His quickness shows confidence," Ferguson said. "Whether it's a ball or a strike, he gets back up there on the mound real fast and is ready to throw the next pitch. As a defender, playing behind someone with that kind of heart and aggression on the mound, it's easy to play defense. It's easy to sell out and dive for balls. There's no hesitation when you have a guy working that hard on the mound."

Sheerin barreled through an Aaron Powers fastball and hit it to center to bring home Matthew Kilpatrick and extend the lead to 6-0. That hit ended Powers' day after 3 2/3 innings of work. Sophomore shortstop Will Spitznagel added a RBI single. A ball in the dirt meant Spitznagel and David Arndorfer were able to move up a bag to second and third. And Brian O'Reilly made Aloha pay with a RBI single to right, 7-0. Freshman James Porter padded the lead with a sacrifice fly. And Sheerin added another RBI single with two outs to make it 9-0.

Abel has flashed moments of being Jesuit's ace and while there are plenty of pitchers for head coach Colin Griffin to select from, the 6-foot-3 hurler hopes his skipper gives him the ball when Jesuit begins its title defense on May 22 against a to be determined opponent.

"My confidence is strong because I have a great group of guys behind me," Abel said. "I'm just going to do my thing if I get the opportunity. I'd really like to get the ball that first game. I just can't wait to be in that atmosphere and do what I love — pitching. I've just always played the game like that. It's been a rush."

While there aren't very many remaining key contributors from last season's state title squad, those that were around the team and got to go along for the proverbial ride soaked in the next level education of what the postseason demands.

"Seeing how the guys composed themselves, playing the big games like it was backyard baseball, having fun and approaching it like another game, I think that really helps," Ferguson said. "We know not to feel all pressure and be nervous. We just have to relax and play our game."

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Aloha senior pitcher Aaron Powers worked more than three innings against Jesuit.