The roster for the 2019 John Curtis baseball team bears little resemblance to the ones for the Patriots teams that have won the last two Division I state championships.
But Curtis’ performance on the field in its District 9-5A opening series looked very familiar.
The Patriots, who lost eight everyday players from among the 11 who graduated from last year’s team, were a mere 6-8 in pre-district play. Then they defeated Rummel 8-1 on Tuesday night and 2-0 Thursday night.
“It was kind of a little shaky at first because we had been struggling, we had been mixing and matching, moving payers in and out, trying to find players that fit spots,” said senior left-hander Dax Ford (3-2), the only returning pitcher who threw significant innings last season and who tossed six shutout innings Thursday.
“But I feel like we finally decided to mesh as a team and we starting to bond together and we’re starting to play together. I think that’s the key point. We feel like we have each other’s backs now. There’s nothing but a rise from now on.”
The pitching set the tone for Curtis in both games. Coach Jeff Curtis decided not to throw Ford on Tuesday after catcher Collin Guggenheim called him at 6:30 a.m. and said he was throwing up.
Guggenheim told coach Curtis he’d give him “all he had” and the coach decided to play Guggenheim in right field and not disrupt the chemistry Ford has with his starting catcher.
So Curtis started freshman Logan O’Neill, who responded with 4.1 scoreless innings. Sophomore Michael Curtis pitched the final 2.2 innings, allowing the Raiders’ only hit and run with two outs in the seventh.
“(O’Neill) pitched his butt off,” said Guggenheim, who felt well enough to move behind the plate for the seventh inning. “I’m proud of the way he stepped up and competed.”
Rummel entered the game having won four in row and having scored a total of 31 runs in its last three games.
“I had the team backing me up and telling me how I was doing but it was a team thing, not one player,” O’Neill said. “Coach told me I was going on the mound today and I was going to bring it.”
The Patriots had 10 hits and didn’t commit an error until two outs in the seventh, leading coach Curtis to call the win “an ultimate team victory.”
The win Thursday didn’t feature nearly as much offense, thanks to an outstanding performance by Rummel’s Jackson Dennies (5-1), who allowed just five hits and four runs while striking out 13.
Coach Nick Monica bemoaned the fact that the Raiders (13-6) had very few good at-bats in the opener and were 0 for 4 on sacrifice bunts on Thursday. They also had defensive lapses in both games, but they showed what they are capable of, even with five sophomores starting, during their pre-district run.
“We can’t get in panic mode,” Monica said. “We’ve played some pretty good baseball (in pre-district).”
Curtis’ sweep was consistent with other opening series in the Catholic League as Jesuit swept Brother Martin and Holy Cross swept Shaw. St. Augustine begins district play when it visits Jesuit on Saturday morning.
“I’m absolutely happy with the way we’ve played the last two games,” Curtis said. “But we’re still two games into a 12-game grind. In this district there is no rest.”
The Patriots host Brother Martin on Saturday afternoon. Despite the slow start, the Crusaders are considered a district contender after compiling a 14-2 pre-district record.
Coach Curtis, whose program has won the Catholic League title in each of its three seasons in the league, was thinking long term when he pulled Ford, who was nine pitches short of the mandatory pitch limit of 115, after the sixth inning.
“If we’re going to have an opportunity to win a state championship I need Dax’s best in April and May,” Curtis said. “We’re still in the middle of March. Absolutely he could have run back out there and thrown the pitches that he had left but I thought for the longevity of our ball club pull him there.”
Curtis gave the ball to Dante Dufachard, who pitched a perfect seventh for his second save.
“We need Dufachard out of the bullpen because we’re going to need him in the playoffs at some point,” Curtis said. “We’re going to need him in the stretch run in district and we had full confidence that Dante would come in and throw strikes and pick up the save.”