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Crusaders are the top-ranked team at the Class 6A level and continue to improve

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Jesuit junior Mick Abel and the Crusader baseball team have began the year as the top team in 6A.

Since winning the Class 6A state championship in 2016, the Jesuit baseball program has been a bit snakebitten when it comes to postseason fortune.

Two years ago the retooled Crusaders' youth reared its ugly head at the wrong time, resulting in a first-round exit to South Medford. And last spring, despite winning 23 games and earning the fourth seed in the 6A bracket, Jesuit went cold at the plate and was upset 2-0 by West Albany in the second round. The '16 title was the first in school history, so Jesuit doesn't need to be lectured on the suddenness and vicious nature of the postseason. That aside, the early rumblings around the state landscape are this Jesuit squad possesses all the necessitated safeguards to not just get close to a state title, but win it again.

Junior pitcher Mick Abel is growing into a monster with each passing start. He heads a pitching staff that's loaded with quality arms such as juniors Ethan Wilson and Joe Schwab who have thrown like aces already just a month into the season. The Crusader defense has speed and prowess everywhere around the lot, especially in the infield with Abel, Wilson, Will Spitznagel, Kevin Blair, James Porter and others. Jesuit's offensive playing style: fast, aggressive, bold has proven fruitful on the biggest of stages under head coach Colin Griffin. The Crusaders swing at the first best pitch, steal bases whenever possible and take the extra base at every turn. Couple that approach with power and precision at the plate and it's a reliable offense with few holes in the batting order.

Jesuit was pegged as one of the select favorites to win both the Metro League and 6A state title. So far, they've lived up to the billing, racing out to a 10-2 start including a 6-0 beginning in Metro.

"Our goal is always to win the Metro and then state. However, on a day-to-day basis we focus on playing our game," Griffin said. "The league is wide open with several really good teams.  We feel we can compete with anyone but there are certainly no easy matchups once league starts."

On pure talent alone, this team might best the '16 champs. Abel is an Oregon State commit who keeps getting bigger, faster and stronger on the mound. At 6-foot-5 with mid 90's velocity and improving control, the right-hander epitomizes intimidation. Wilson is enjoying a breakout year as a starter with sterling starts against Beaverton and Southridge. He and Abel alone could carry Jesuit on a long playoff run. Either could feasibly get the ball if Jesuit is fortunate enough to play in the state title game in early June. But add in the lefty Schwab who's earned a huge role in the rotation and other arms such as Porter who can come in get the job done and the staff is stacked.

Spitznagel signed with the University of Oregon this past winter after a first-team all-Metro junior campaign and enters his third year as Jesuit's starting shortstop. Porter is up there with some of the more feared power hitters in Metro. Blair brings pop at the plate as well and can play anywhere around the infield. Senior catcher Joe Angeli, sophomore Sean Murphy, juniors Kade Wisher and Campbell Brandt and senior outfielder Josh Daul add talented depth to a roster that goes to a number of sources and expects production.

"The program has a lot of depth this year at all levels and players will be competing throughout the year to have expanding roles," Griffin said. "We pride ourselves in playing seven innings of focused baseball. Our guys have been working hard all off-season and we're looking forward to seeing how it plays out on the field."

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