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St. Paul baseball surprises with trip to districts

Mark Hazelwood • May 16, 2011 at 12:16 AM

The glass is always half full when referring to St. Paul baseball.

While the program has just one Firelands Conference championship in its history, including many years without FC contention, the Flyers have seen tournament success.

This season's edition of the Flyers has been no different, and longtime coach Jim Carper admittedly doesn't have an explanation.

"I just really believe that we have a lot of talent on our team that is more than capable of playing with almost everyone on our schedule," Carper said. "And when they decide to use it, good things happen."

Sitting at 4-11 overall less than two weeks ago, the Flyers have won four of the last six, highlighted by the biggest upset on the area tournament scene to date.

"Our goal is hardware at this point," Carper said. "I wasn't pleased with the start, but I'm pleased with where we're going."

Trailing state-ranked and one-loss New London 6-0 through two innings of a Division IV sectional championship last Wednesday, the Flyers rallied with eight unanswered runs for an 8-6 win to advance to the district semifinals for the first time in six years.

St. Paul (8-13) will play Bucyrus Wynford (12-10) on Wednesday at 5 p.m. at Colonel Crawford High School.

In the last 10 seasons, the Flyers are 10-9 overall in the tournament, including a regional runner-up performance in 2005. The team has won at least one tournament game in seven of the 10 seasons.

"The ironic thing was before the New London game, I told our guys when we made the run in 2005, we had to slip by St. Mary the first game. Everything just fell together after that," Carper said.

"In that sectional game, our players believed and stayed focused. And, of course, we got the pitching to hold up too."

Freshman Joseph Hinckley entered the sectional final in the third inning with the Flyers trailing 6-3. He pitched the rest of the game and allow just one unearned run on six hits with four strikeouts and a walk.

Just two days after the sectional win, the Flyers handed New London (13-3, 9-1 FC) its first loss in the conference with a 5-4 win in New London. The Wildcats made 11 errors combined in the two losses, and the Flyers made them pay.

"That's always a big factor when you can take advantage of that type of thing," Carper said. "But when we are at our best, it's when we hit through the order and get the bottom half of the lineup producing to give us opportunities to do other things."

Hinckley leads the Flyers with a .432 batting average that includes a pair of home runs while senior Alex Foster is batting .396 with a team-high 26 RBIs. After hovering around .280, junior Isaac Livengood has swung a hot bat in recent weeks and is up to .406.

But the tournament success at the plate has centered around senior Ian Welch (.396). In the 5-4 sectional semifinal win over SMCC, Welch was 3 for 4 with two doubles and two RBIs. Against New London in the title game Welch was 1 for 4, but walked and scored both times he was on base.

"I'm the most proud of Ian," Carper said. "That leadoff spot are some of the toughest at-bats in the game, and it seems like when Ian starts off with a hit, things roll into place."

Stephen Fondriest is another .300 hitter for the Flyers, who Carper also noted has done a good job in a starting and relief role on the mound.

On Wednesday, Justin Fulton will start his third tournament game of the season with hopes of better luck than his first two. He allowed four runs on seven hits in 3 1/3 innings against SMCC, but was able to pick up the win.

Against New London, Fulton again allowed four earned runs on six hits, but in just 1 1/3 innings of work.

Should Fulton get into trouble against the Royals, Hinckley would likely be the option as the freshman has allowed just the one unearned run against New London in 9 1/3 innings of tournament work. He has allowed eight hits with nine strikeouts and six walks in that span.

Meanwhile, with players such as Hinckley, Livengood, Fulton and Fondriest returning along with four others next season, Carper is hoping the elusive FC title is in the cards.

"The FC is very competitive and playing teams like New London, Mapleton and Crestview twice gets us ready for tournament play," Carper said. "Ultimately, to win an FC title would be the ultimate goal here.

"The future looks very bright for us. The junior high class has tremendous talent, but we have to get everybody in the system maturing and playing. A system starts with younger kids playing in the summer to be successful like New London and Norwalk always are. When we can get enough kids doing that, I think we will finally turn the corner."

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