By Bryan Bloodworth
BLOOMINGTON – Bloomington High School’s baseball team hopes to add to the excitement Tuesday when it plays for its first trip to the state tournament in 43 years.
The Purple Raiders, who last qualified for the state tournament finals in 1970, will face Mount Vernon in the Sauget Super-Sectional at 5 p.m. BHS carries a 28-10 record into the game, which is played in the St. Louis suburbs.
“It’s a pretty exciting time,” said BHS coach Steve Clapp. “It really doesn’t matter who we play. We just feel very blessed to be playing at this point. They are both very good programs.”
Mount Vernon defeated Triad, 2-1, Monday in the finals of the Effingham Sectional.
Clapp, whose team returned four pitchers (Kent Frantz, Roman Visintine, Jaydon Thompson and Brandon Edwards) who accounted for 23 victories last season, was optimistic heading into this season.
“Any time you’re starting with pitching as your cornerstone you feel pretty good,” said Clapp.
However, arm problems to Frantz and Visintine limited their availability during the season.
“Things changed once Frantz went down and Visintine was battling arm problems,” added Clapp. “We knew the dynamics of the way we were going to have to win was going to change, but I never under-estimated these kids.”
Defense became a focus for BHS.
“We no longer had an arm that was automatic and could go out and possibly put up seven goose eggs on the board,” added Clapp. “We had to put more of a concentrated effort on just throwing strikes and letting defense work. The defense has been really solid all year.”
The Purple Raiders’ offense has not relied on power this season.
“We’re more of a contact team,” said Clapp. “We’ve done a great job, especially in the post-season, with our bunting game. That’s been the difference in a number of games. We do what we need to do to scratch across runs.”
Clapp added that this year’s team carries a unique bond.
“They are like brothers,” said Clapp. “In fact, there are a number of times when they say ‘Brothers’ when they break the huddle. The kids do a great job of staying loose and relaxed. They are a fun group to watch off field with their friendships.
“But they also have the ability to turn the switch on. When it’s game time, they’ve got a pretty strong will and fortitude.”
Bryan Bloodworth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org