In the long-awaited title defense season, early losses help reigning baseball state champion Jesuit focus

In the long-awaited title defense season, early losses help reigning baseball state champion Jesuit  ...

Baseball is a game of injustice, according to head coach Colin Griffin. Yet, his Jesuit Crusaders wanted them to be perfect.

Nearly three years after the Crusaders' baseball program claimed the last state championship in 2019, each and every member of the team had paid their fees, graduated, and moved on, the pressure of a title defense lingered.

It lacked through the dead period brought on by COVID-19, when all Griffin could do was field anxious phone calls and deliver postulate answers. It lacked as the 2020 season came and went without a single game played. It lacked as the 2021 team fought through an abridged postseason-less year.

And when the 2022 team arrived on March 14, that pressure of a championship defense stowed in the air, leaving the air to restraint.

It wasn't until the Crusaders finally lost a game and then another, that everything changed. Jesuit was 6-0 and dropped back-to-back games against Central Catholic (on March 31) and Sunset (on April 4). It may have been that two defeats, a packing of emotional baggage and adversity of persistent stress, that enhanced a No. 2 Jesuit (10-2) team with very effective title aspirations, and an elite pitching staff, in the end.

Griffin's team has been 4-0 and has outscored 31-0 as a result of the losses.

"They felt like they had this added pressure of not being okay with the fact that they lost a game," Griffin said. "They felt like they had to win every game."

The success of the 2019 team has been hailed. Part of it is tied into the uniforms worn by the Crusaders.

That's part of going to Jesuit... said pitcher Ansel Balmer. For the most part, we all understand those expectations and have high expectations for ourselves. There are times when these expectations may be confusing.

Griffin emphasizes reflection, and he offered up an example to his team. The Crusaders held a clear sheet between 2019 and 2021, and it became clear that the victory was only about them.

Griffin said, Who wants to do something like that, That puts a lot of pressure on those girls. They were so talented they were able to do it, but baseball isn't designed that way.

I think it helped them get back to having fun. They were kind of talking about how they were no longer having fun. They were just feeling the pressure of what they were expected to do rather than what they thought they might do.

Griffin concentrates on creating the camaraderie and mentality of this team, and it is still his goal, because the Crusaders aren't lacking in the talent division.

The Crusaders' ace is senior Oregon State commit Nelson Keljo. He walked 95 pitches per hour over the summer and has delivered that fastball through the season. Griffin says he's working on his changeup and curveball again.

He might have chosen to be a Division I defensive end, possibly a Division II forward in basketball or Division I baseball player, Griffin said. At some point, he made the decision that he would focus on baseball.

Junior Ty Alleman a bullpen pitcher who excelled in the starting lineup with a fantastic two-seam and a slider and Noble Meyer. Last week, Meyer, an Oregon commit, hit 95 against Sunset and threw a no-hitter through six innings.

"When we're in practice and doing intersquad scrimmages, I feel that there is no better competition in the state," Balmer, the fellow pitcher.

The confidence in the pitching staff is raging through the lineup. Every game, Griffin and his team change their hitting order.

Everybody in our lineup can contribute, Balmer said. You can only play nine people at a time, you can only have one pitcher out there at a time, but I believe Coach Griff has done an excellent job of preparing everyone for every situation.

Griffin often assures his team that they are only as good as their 18th man. Not every kid will get even playing time, but the kids who demonstrate development and improvement get their chance out of the dugout.

After their first bout of adversity this season, the Crusaders arrived to meet preseason expectations and then fought the storm. Now, they just need to remain stable.

Griffin said: "We aren't expecting them to peak here in March or April or even early May." "We need them to peak in late May and early June."

Being able to "speak" on the back of the pitch is crucial to Griffin's ability to check in frequently with his players. Recently, he retraced one of his players from the game and examined him on his thoughts about the game's chemistry and the season to that point.

At the start of the game, the player didn't say a word, but he relaxed his head. Finally, he paused before breaking out into an ear-to-ear grin.

Whats up? Griffin asked.

"I've never been a member of a group that's so close, that follows and behaves extremely well, that confronts each other so much and trusts in each other so much," he said.

The Crusaders are reaping their rewards as a result of COVID-19's careers. They're gratifying the victories and learning from the losses. However, they're still playing carefree.

Those two losses) helped us realize that we are not playing to go undefeated, Balmer said. Were playing for the playoffs, for the state championship. It allowed us to breathe and carry that weight off our backs and shoulders.

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