Through 42 games this season, Saint Xavier baseball is establishing themselves as among the best in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference (CCAC). The men boast a 12-5 conference record (21-21 overall) and sit just one game behind North division leading Judson.
With the help of a reliable pitching staff and an outstanding offensive stretch, the Cougars are riding a 10-4 record in April. Head coach Rocco Mossuto’s club is a winner of seven straight, as well as 14 of their last 19.
The Cougars are taking full advantage of playing at Richard R. Ferrell Memorial Field this season, as their home record rests at a dominant 11-1. Lately, the Saint Xavier lineup is lighting up the Memorial Field scoreboard with their bats.
Over their last six home affairs, the Cougars have outscored their opponents 85-12 and are averaging 14 runs per game. The six-game offensive explosion was capped by a 27-6 beat down over CCAC foe Trinity International University on Saturday, April 15.
Saint Xavier is enjoying its string of historic offensive productions, but the reality of the game suggests the Cougars will not be able to maintain this incredible pace. However, one aspect of the team’s game plan that has been consistent all year resides in the pitching staff.
As a team, the Cougars rank third in the CCAC in ERA, innings pitched, opponent’s batting average, and doubles allowed. The pitching staff continues to be reliable and a lot of the credit goes to juniors Tyler Hebel and Matthew McKenzie.
As a sophomore in 2016, Hebel was relied upon the most by coach Mossuto and shined with a 2.96 ERA in a team leading 94.1 innings pitched. This season, the Cougars feel comfortable whenever Hebel’s name is called to take the rubber.
In twelve starts this year, the 6’1” right-handed pitcher has a 2.21 ERA, fired three complete games, and leads the team in innings pitched with 53. In terms of production, junior left-hander Matthew McKenzie sits just below Hebel in the starting rotation.
Last year as a sophomore, McKenzie was a key cog in the Cougars’ success. He threw five complete games in 13 starts (15 appearances) and posted a 4.14 ERA in 78.1 innings.
In 2017, McKenzie has really improved his command. The junior lefty leads the team in strikeouts with 34, and has only walked eight batters in 52.1 innings.
For a team to have realistic aspirations to make a deep playoff run in baseball, they must have quality arms to headline their pitching staff. Hebel and McKenzie have proven their worth to this point of the season. Plus, their supporting cast has shown they can carry their weight as well.
Offensively, Matt Monahan leads the team in batting average, runs scored, total hits, doubles, triples, RBI, and slugging percentage. The standout freshman is slashing .378/.439/.587 with 14 doubles, 5 triples, 2 home runs, and 32 RBI in 143 at-bats.
Meanwhile, Alex Neufeld, Ben Zordani, and Garett Bright each post a batting average over .300 on the season. Neufeld does his job well as a kick starter for the Cougars at the top of the lineup. The senior outfielder has walked 15 more times than he has struck out this season.
Only 10 games remain before the CCAC tournament begins on May 5. The Cougars want to defend their conference tournament crown and they have a chance to do that as CCAC North Division Champions.
Nipping at the Cougars’ heels is Saint Ambrose, who are 1.5 games behind Saint Xavier in the conference standings. The Cougars won’t see Ambrose or division leading Judson again this regular season, so the men must take care of what lies in front of them and let the rest play out itself.
Purdue University Northwest, Robert Morris, Trinity Christian, and Roosevelt are all that remain for the 2017 Saint Xavier Cougars. A strong finish could mean a No. 1 overall seed in the CCAC tournament.
The Cougars will look to improve their remarkable home record on Friday, April 21 against Robert Morris University. The game is scheduled for 3:00 PM.
Senior Sports Editor