When Kary Bridges was hired at St. Martin last May, he saw promise in a young baseball team that was beat down over the last couple of seasons. Bridges promised improvement without guaranteeing too much.
Through 13 games, the Yellow Jackets have followed through on Bridges’ prediction.
St. Martin won its first five games of the season and is currently riding a four-game winning streak that was punctuated Saturday with an impressive 11-9 win over No. 2 West Harrison.
“I’m proud of the way they bought in and have been resilient. We have had to come from behind a lot,” Bridges said. “But as young as we are, and with as hard as they’re playing, I’m pleased with our direction.”
Entering this week’s schedule, sophomores rank as four of the team’s top seven hitters. Furthermore, seven players have pitched this year, including three sophomores, one freshman and three juniors.
Some of the team’s early success can be attributed to last year’s struggles.
“They took their lumps with young guys, playing a lot of freshmen last year,” he said. “We’re still young, but we have guys who have played. We’re reaping the benefit of that.”
Asked how they’re getting it done in 2017, Bridges said the Yellow Jackets don’t fit in a mold.
“That’s been the neat thing,” he said. “We’ve found different ways to win. We’re not your prototypical offensive or power hitting team, or pitching and defense team. We’re just finding ways to win.”
The Yellow Jackets were dealt a blow this summer when last year’s ace, Jacob Gilliland, opted to transfer to Next Level Academy, which is based in Montgomery, Alabama. Injuries have also hurt the Jackets, but sophomores Leif Moore and Matthew Thompson, and juniors Travis Hilton and Dakoda Groue, have more than stepped up.
“He has really made pitches. He has good stuff and is learning how to use it,” Bridges said of Moore, who is 1-0 with a 3.26 ERA and a team-high 24 strikeouts in 19 1/3 innings. “The last few outings he has really been able to throw his breaking ball. He has a good fastball but at this level you can’t just throw a fastball and win.
“He really goes after guys. He’s a confident kid and only a sophomore.”
Offensively the Jackets only have three homers on the year. More than power, they’ve been successful by getting timely hits and making pitchers work.
“We preach being tough outs and commit to being tough outs,” Bridges said. “I think that’s why we’ve been successful.”
The Yellow Jackets collectively boast a .418 on-base percentage. Three regulars, Cameron Locke (.463), R.J. Fletcher (.439) and Brennen Study (.419) are hitting above .400. The key for St. Martin moving forward, however, could be the play of senior center fielder Isaac Williams.
Despite hitting just .233, Bridges gives some credit to Williams for pushing the team’s offense.
“He hasn’t started hitting yet but he’s going to. He’s too good of a hitter not to,” Bridges said. “He’s always on base and finds ways to spark the team. That’s exciting for us.”
Watching his team learn how to win in different ways has been fun, but “it only gets tougher from here on out,” Bridges said.
St. Martin hosts Harrison Central on Tuesday and will travel to No. 1 Gulfport on Friday. The Yellow Jackets also play No. 8 Long Beach on Saturday.
Sun Herald Baseball Top 10
1. Gulfport (30)
2. West Harrison (27)
3. Pearl River Central (24)
4. George County (19)
5. Biloxi (18)
6. St. Martin (16)
7. Ocean Springs (13)
8. Long Beach (9)
9. Vancleave (4)
T10. St. Stanislaus (2)
T10. Bay (2)
Receiving votes: East Central (1; 7-6; NR)
Sun Herald Softball Top 10
1. Harrison Central (30)
2. St. Patrick (27)
3. East Central (24)
4. Ocean Springs (21)
T5. George County (16)
T5. Poplarville (16)
7. Picayune (11)
8. Pass Christian (8)
9. St. Martin (4)
T10. West Harrison (3)
T10. Our Lady Academy (3)
Dropped out: Pearl River Central (2; 7-4; 10)