Experienced Saints look to continue improving, compete for crowns
In a sport dominated by confidence and muscle memory, experience is as valuable as any other single factor. Despite just two seniors returning, the Saint Paul Lutheran High School Saints baseball team is poised for a bounceback season as depth and experience will be strengths for a program ready to compete for an I-70 Conference championship.
“A lot of our juniors played a lot as sophomores,” head coach Eric Gramenz said, “and I expect that experience to pay off this season.”
Coach Gramenz has every reason to set this expectation. Despite a challenging nonconference schedule filled with mainly Class 3 and 4 teams, the Saints’ seventh year head coach should improve behind a junior-laden squad with the majority of their offense returning to the lineup in 2019.
Senior Micah Lemmons and junior Aaron Kirby will hold down the left side of the infield when they aren’t on the mound taking their turn in the starting rotation, but Gramenz identifies six other Saints as inning-eaters, as well, including junior Josiah Kunkel.
A handful of now-graduated Saints helped the Saints from the bump, but making those innings up will go a long way towards success for Saint Paul in 2019 — although runs shouldn’t be overly difficult to come by this season, either.
Kirby and Lemmons will anchor the lineup, while Kunkel, junior catcher Luke Roepe, and junior outfielder Jonathon Grass should also make waves offensively. Splitting time between first base and designated hitter will be junior Avery Johnson and sophomore Peyton Arnold, both of which could provide some of the boom the Saints will need to compete.
As the only other senior besides Lemmons, Aidin Muehler has improved each year of his career and will be turned to in the infield, on the mound, and for intelligent situational hitting to help get extra runs across.
While accruing varsity innings may not lead to particularly high career batting averages, it most certainly leads to high-quality at bats, and Gramenz believes the Swingin’ Saints should be in the top-tier of I-70 teams largely because of these additional in-game reps, among other factors.
“Last year we didn’t have much experience returning and we struggled at times but I do expect us to have a bounce-back season thanks to last year’s experience,” Gramenz said.
While nothing is guaranteed in an I-70 Conference chock full of ballclubs hoping to etch their names into the state tournament bracket, including Lone Jack High School and crosstown rival Concordia High School, the Saints believe experience and improved athleticism and speed should help on both sides of the ball.
With some all-important veteran leadership and young players continually improving, Gramenz has his eyes on the prize in 2019.
“Every year we want to compete for an I-70 Conference championship,” Gramenz explained. “We know there are a lot of talented teams this year but we have worked hard to keep ourselves in that conversation.”
However, while the Saints and their supporters should hope for and even expect a good season, there are a trio of expectations that Gramenz keys in on aside from the wins and losses.
“I want to see our guys work hard everyday, have fun playing the game, and always giving the glory to God in whatever we do.”
With the right attitude and approach game-in and game-out, the Saints should a team to watch out for in 2019.