By Jay Jenkins / Scrimmageplaycva.com contributor
Brett Johnson is quick to admit that the previous season provided more smiles.
The starting shortstop at St. Anne’s-Belfield, the senior is mired in the midst of a rebuilding project just 10 months after the Saints went 24-2 and won a state title.
After struggling out of the gates, however, STAB has gelled and claimed three of its four wins of the season in the past week.
In a rare scheduling decision due to the Easter holiday, the Saints beat Fork Union 14-6 at home on Thursday and topped the Blue Devils 12-6 on the road Friday.
The key, Johnson noted, was getting timely hits from numerous spots in the batting order.
“We haven’t been hitting the ball very well, so to get 16 hits [on Thursday] was great,” said Johnson, who has decided to play at Hampden-Sydney next year. “It was good to see us start hitting the ball the way we did.
“We knew it was going to be a slow start, but it has been good to get some wins here lately. We have definitely improved, so that is good.”
Fork Union, winless on the season, jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the third inning on Thursday, but the Saints scored multiple runs in each of the final four frames, including four runs in the fourth and five in the sixth.
The improved production at the plate started in a road win at Potomac as the Saints were an out away from losing.
“We had two outs in the seventh inning and we were down and we got seven straight hits,” STAB coach Alan Swanson said. “You like to see the boys rewarded for their hard work.
“I never want a team to go undefeated and I never want a team to lose all their games. We have lost a lot more than we have won this year, but it is nice to get the reward of the hard work that they are putting in during practice.”
In the first win over Fork Union, senior lefty Matt Morris worked six strong innings and effectively changed speeds on the mound as he threw 78 of his 109 pitches for strikes.
“He fell behind early when they scored three in the third inning but he never hung his head,” Swanson said of Morris. “We kicked it around behind him some and he was still a positive presence on the mound.
That’s part of winning. He never got down on himself or his teammates and that was impressive.
“Matt throws three pitches for strikes and the change-up runs a little bit and with the fastball … he runs slow, slow and all of a sudden he gets the fastball by you. He is learning how to pitch and he has done very, very well.”
Morris also had four hits, scored three runs, stole three bases and drove in a run to aid his cause. Wesley Battle and Justin Flevarakis chipped in with three hits for the Saints and Johnson added two hits, including an RBI double.
Twelve of the hits in the first win over FUMA were singles, which Blue Devils coach Ben Paris said was disheartening to his young team.
“They ripped off four singles in a row in the third inning and none of them were hard hit but they were able to slide them in there,” Paris said. “But I am proud of our guys for playing hard and playing throughout the game. Our defense struggled in the first inning, but it came back together. We just didn’t quite make the pitches that we needed.”
Christian Hackenberg led Fork Union offensively, hitting a pair of doubles and the junior drove in a pair of runs.
“We start seven juniors, a senior and a sophomore,” Paris pointed out. “We are getting there, but it’s our pitching that just needs to come around for us.
“We will play good defense and we will get the hits, but we just have to get a little better on the mound.”