These days, Sayre’s baseball team sees everybody’s ace. That used to not be the case.
Under head coach Kevin Clary, the Spartans have morphed into a force to be reckoned with in the 11th Region. Two seasons ago they reached the region tournament for the first time since 1997, a feat the Spartans would have repeated last season if not for a last-inning rally by Henry Clay in the 42nd District semifinals.
But 2017 presents another realistic opportunity for Sayre to engineer an epic run.
“I believe we’re moving in an upward path,” said senior Josh Morgan. “Last year was kind of a bummer, but I think we’re gonna come back strong this year.”
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Sayre’s 11-9 record midway through the season suggests it’s still figuring things out. Four of their nine losses were to teams currently ranked in Prep Baseball Report’s top 25, including two one-run heartbreakers to No. 5 Scott County, the defending 42nd District and 11th Region champs. They own a top-20 win over Tates Creek, a contender in the 43rd District.
“If our focus is good and we’re in our mode where we learn how to compete for seven innings, I believe we can play with anybody,” said Clary, who coached Lexington Catholic to a state title in 2009 and is in his third year leading the Spartans. “And I think if we don’t we can get beat by anybody.”
Scott County Spartans
Cameron Stiglich, a junior who’s having a breakout season on the mound, transferred to Sayre following his freshman season at Scott County. He’s one of five integral Sayre players (along with Christian Moore, Morgan, Sam Seahorn and Sam Stayton) who were in Scott County’s program at one time. Another, Sam Van Balen, lives in Georgetown.
For Stiglich, who was a strong hitter on Scott County’s Cal Ripken World Series team as a 10-year-old, the change was precipitated in part due to a desire to be a full-time pitcher, which he felt would improve his chances of playing into college.
“It was just one of those things that kind of faded away,” Stiglich said. “… I felt like if I wanted to be a Division I player, then I needed to be a pitcher.”
In the beginning it was hard to transition to the mound, Stiglich said. He missed batting practice and had to get accustomed to the once-a-week pressure of playing up to one’s best as opposed to a plate mentality, when a poor at-bat can be remedied within a couple of innings.
Going up against his former team can make the experience all the more harrowing.
“I’d be on the mound and some of my best friends would come up,” Stiglich said of facing Scott County. “It’s hard not to laugh and smile at them. On the inside I’m like, ‘Ah, I wanna get this guy cause I know three weeks later I want to tell him, ‘Hey, I struck you out.’ It’s fun.”
Clary thinks offers will start pouring in this fall for Stiglich, who threw only 65 pitches in a complete-game win at Bryan Station last week.
James Dupree, who leads Sayre with a 1.6 ERA, will likely play in college next spring. Moore, Morgan and Seahorn are developing into capable frontline starters for the Spartans, which will help come postseason.
Morgan and Moore have proven to be Sayre’s most reliable threats in the order. Both are batting above .400 and have each hit three home runs this season. Stayton, the team’s shortstop, is batting about .300. Van Balen, a three-year starter at first base, and catcher Seth Hojnacki have also been productive at the plate, Clary said.
Several of the players seeing big innings for Sayre this season were freshmen and sophomores when the Spartans burst onto the scene two years ago. They’re not just looking to extend the momentum the group before them brought to the city’s smallest school; they’re wanting to ride it to Whitaker Bank Ballpark in June.
“One minute we’re someone that everyone wants to play because it’s an easy win, then it goes to ‘We don’t wanna play this team cause they’re gonna smack our butts.’ That’s what it turned into,” Stiglich said. “ … I feel like if we’re all in, then we can go really far.”