Rising junior pitcher hopes to complement Abel in the Crusader pitching rotation

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Jesuit junior Ethan Wilson and the Crusaders should be loaded up for a Metro League title run next season.

A pitching staff can be the backbone of a Class 6A state championship team.

Look no further than Westview's latest run to the top of the toughest classification in the state. Buoyed by the right arms of Willie Weiss, Ben Braukmann and Jacob Cox, Westview limited its postseason foes to just 3.2 runs a game and less than three earned runs per contest. The Wildcats themselves never scored more than seven times throughout the postseason. The eight runs Westview scored in the state title game against Clackamas were a byproduct of putting the bat on the ball and forcing Cavalier miscues.

Point being, if a team's pitching is good enough, specifically at the top of the rotation, there's no telling how far it can take a squad.

The blueprint is out in the open. And Jesuit, a program that just won a state championship two years ago, just might be the next Metro League team that follows it back to Volcanoes Stadium.

The Crusaders' ace Mick Abel is 100 percent healthy after a season-ending injury to his left (non-pitching) shoulder. And his good friend Ethan Wilson, a jack-of-all-trades pitcher as a sophomore, is in the running for Jesuit's second starter. He's a right-armed strike shover with elevated velocity and a repeatable delivery that breeds consistency.

Jesuit's Oregon Independent Baseball Association summer season came to a close on July 20 at the hands of Clackamas in the state quarterfinals at Lake Oswego High School. Wilson and the Crusaders were doomed by a five-run, mishap-heavy third inning and ultimately lost 6-0. That said, Jesuit's ceiling going into next spring is high. The belief is these last two months can catapult the Crusaders into the offseason that'll send select individuals around the country playing for different clubs and then bring them back in the late fall and winter in prep for the spring.

"We started off this summer kind of slow, but I think toward the end we definitely came together as a team," Wilson said. "We've had fun together all summer and that's the main key. This offseason we have to get together and hit a lot. We have a lot of good returning players, so that should help us. We've already started talking about how we can get better, stronger, faster, all of that stuff."

Together, the Abel-Wilson duo has the potential to be tops in 6A. Abel is already a Division One commit, having verbally pledged to national champion Oregon State. When he's on and effective, Abel is unhittable with two more years ahead of him to physically mature and season. Wilson, after earning a key role on the Crusader staff last year, appears on the verge of a breakout. He started in place of Abel down the stretch as Jesuit's third starter and will continue to open games for the Crusaders in 2019. Wilson plays for Baseball Northwest and Gunderson Baseball in the offseason where he will continue to pitch and play second base.

"It's a different mentality," Wilson said. "Being a starter, you have to get down to it right away. Coming in out of the bullpen, you already have something under your feet. But, I've been a starter before and I'm definitely comfortable either way."

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Jesuit junior James Porter figures to shoulder an even bigger role for the Crusaders next year.

And there are a number of intriguing arms lined up in the rotation as well, guys like John Trausch, James Porter and Will Spitznagel who will be factors. Spitznagel was a first-team all-Metro infielder. Porter is probably Jesuit's biggest power hitter who plays at both corner infield spots. Porter, Abel and Wilson have played together since their Cedar Mill Little League days, back when they were the stars crushing it at Alpenrose. Not much has changed since then, minus the jersey colors. The trio has played on the varsity level as freshmen and will help form Jesuit's nucleus next season.

"It's awesome," Wilson said with a smile. "We've spent so much time together over the years and to still be playing baseball with some of our best friends is awesome. We have that team chemistry within us and within everybody else."

Wilson was the victim of some bad luck in the third against the state runner-up Cavaliers. A third strike was dropped to start the inning, then that leadoff hitter appeared to be thrown out trying to steal second, but was ruled safe. That same runner later scored on an infield single. And a Crusader infield throwing error on a bunt attempt allowed another run to score, 2-0. Clackamas added an RBI double to go up 3-0. Clackamas' Jack Dollens laid down a bunt that was mishandled and thrown away, allowing two runs to score, 5-0. A walk loaded the bases with nobody out chased Wilson from the contest.

"That's just how baseball goes," Wilson said. "It's going your way one inning and the very next inning it falls apart. But the hardest thing in baseball is to bounce back from tough errors like that. We stayed together and bounced back."

Indeed, Trausch killed it out of the bullpen, striking out the next three hitters swinging with nothing bat gas and high heat to keep the bleeding under control. He held Clackamas scoreless for the next inning until Dollens hit another RBI double that made it 6-0. Spitznagel came on in relief of Dollens and didn't allow a run the rest of the way.

Wilson and Crusader comrades showed some toughness in the second inning. With runners on the corners and two outs, Clackamas tried to cause a heap of commotion by sending its second runner from first to try and distract Jesuit's infield enough that the lead runner could escape home in a sort of diversion double steal. The Crusaders sniffed it out, however, throwing the ball to Porter on the third base side who threw to Wilson who slapped the tag on the aggressive lead runner for the third out. Trying to jar the ball free, Dollens ran into Wilson, knocking both players to the ground. Wilson, however, held onto the ball, showed the ump it was still lodged in his glove, stared down Dollens and slammed the ball into the artificial turf, a bit perturbed the Cavalier tried to cause such a collision.

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