By Cameron Skaggs
This upcoming baseball season is going to be a fun one for the players and coaches of the Vianney Baseball program. The preseason rankings were recently released and the Griffins were selected as the No. 1 team in the state by the Missouri High School Baseball Coaches Association and the No. 18 squad in the nation by Collegiate Baseball Magazine.
“The preseason rankings are amazing for us, but it can be a little nerve-racking for everyone to keep it up because now we have a big target on our backs,” said Noah Niznik, a senior pitcher.
Coach Scott Brown’s Griffins made a long run in the playoffs last season, advancing all the way to the state semifinals, but dropping that game to a hot Fort Zumwalt West team.
“(Fort Zumwalt West) had a solid team last year and will have a solid team again this year, but our guys are hungrier from last year because of the experience, so we should have a good, solid chance this year,” senior right fielder Anthony Altobella said.
The Griffins racked up some impressive hardware last season, capturing the 47th Annual Lindbergh/Mehlville Championship, their fourth consecutive Metro Catholic Conference crown, their 12th District Title, a second-place finish in the Midwest Classic and third-place finish in the state playoffs.
“We learned a lot last year not only from our wins, but from our losses as well,” senior outfielder Mike DiPiazza said.
The Griffins only had four seniors last year: Tommy Kraus, Ethan Kleinheider, Jack Stanfield, and Jacob Schneider. Returning players this season include seniors Luke Mann, Andrew Keck, Niznik, Altobella, DiPiazza and Dominic Moro and juniors Nico Hagan and Tommy Geders.
“Those are some of our top guys who we are going to look at to have a big season for us,” Troy Morton, a senior catcher, said.
Mann, a senior pitcher and infielder, was selected as a preseason first-team All-American by Collegiate Baseball Magazine and is a finalist for the Rising Star Award from the St. Louis Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame.
“The rotation will be very similar to what it was last season,” Mann said. “We had only one pitcher graduate and we have a few now-junior pitchers ready to step up into that spot. Starting pitching is going to carry most of the load as it did last season, but that is no knock on our relievers or our powerful closer who tends to come up clutch in big moments.
“As for the lineup, I have no idea. We have a lot of tools that we can utilize at any point. Although we are loaded up on seniors, underclassmen are also going to find their home in the lineup. It’s going to be interesting to see how Coach Brown lays that out.”
The 2018 season for the Griffins will have a lot of high expectations, but this experienced team seems to thrive on those kind of lofty goals. Having exceptional talent helps, with nine seniors set to sign with colleges and three to four more already expecting to continue their careers at the next level.
The season opens on Friday, March 16, at the Lindbergh/Mehlville Tournament.