After strong start in Myrtle Beach, Thomas Jefferson baseball keeps rolling

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Sunday, April 21, 2024 | 11:01 AM


The Thomas Jefferson baseball team began the season with three wins and a 29-run outburst at the Ripken Experience in Myrtle Beach.

The Jaguars returned home and continued their winning ways.

TJ rang up a 10-0 record through the first month of the season, outscoring the opposition by an 82-12 cumulative margin.

The Jaguars were averaging a healthy 8.2 runs per game and held seven teams to one run or less with three shutouts.

“The beginning of this season has been a unique one for us and everyone in the WPIAL. You never know what you’re going to return to after the Myrtle trip,” TJ coach Tim Vickers said. “The rain has been a challenge. Not just in catching up on games but also keeping the team fresh and ready to compete. I’m proud of our guys for getting through it.

“I thought we’d be pretty solid. This team has 10 seniors, many of whom got their first varsity experience last season. With one year under their belts and a desire to go further than last year, I thought we’d be a little better.”

TJ has been impressive since the season’s opening pitch, rolling past Calvary Day School (N.C.), 12-0, and Boys Latin (Md.) twice by 10-1 and 7-2 scores in March at the Ripken Experience.

“Myrtle for us every year is a great experience,” said TJ’s Alec Warden, a senior shortstop and Penn State recruit. “We go down for a couple days and have a great time at the beach and playing baseball. I think our performances down there just set the tone for the rest of the season. Only giving up three runs in three games with the hitting also on point was a perfect combination.

“I think we couldn’t have imagined a better start. We all have one thing in mind, working towards one goal at the end of the season, and that’s a ring.”

Following lopsided 9-0, 8-3 and 13-1 wins against Keystone Oaks, Peters Township and Laurel Highlands, respectively, the Jaguars kicked off their section schedule with impressive victories against McKeesport (16-1) and Chartiers Valley (1-0, 2-1) and Elizabeth Forward (4-3).

“We need to clean up a lot of the little things,” Vickers said. “As each season approaches playoff time, the teams that are fundamentally sound always seem to have the best chance to go far.

“Our guys have hit and pitched well to this point. We also must make sure that our approach to both continues.”

TJ finished with an 8-12 record in 2023. But with eight returning starters, the Jaguars were ranked No. 1 in the Class 4A preseason by Trib HSSN.

Players to watch this spring include TJ seniors Elias Lippincott (RF), Brady McGough (3B), J.J. Siemon (P/INF), Ethan Steinmetz (2B) and Warden, along with junior catcher Carter Kirsch.

“I think the main reason for our recent success is our ability to compete while not being selfish,” Warden said. “Going back to the offseason, our entire pitching staff has been competing against our starting lineup for months.

“Obviously, these at-bats in the offseason mean nothing, but each one of us finds a way to make it competitive. I think this is one of the biggest factors, if not the biggest, to our success. Our pitching staff has been unbelievable and the ability to compete is there for every person in our lineup. I think we’re a team that no would want to line up against.”

Warden, Lippincott, McGough, Siemon, Steinmetz and Kirsch have been joined in the starting lineup by juniors Luke Kosko (CF), Tyler Lesko (1B) and Noah Kaszer (LF) and senior DH/OF Brady Hodge.

“I’m very happy with how we are doing,” Lesko said. “We knew from winter training that we would be dangerous, and the Ripken Experience was a good way to show it early. Not only is our lineup strong one through nine, our pitchers are lights-out.

“I strongly believe we are so successful right now because of two things: The work we put in and the bond the guys have. We all have been playing together and growing up together for as long as I can remember.”

The Jaguars had four .400 hitters in their early season lineup consisting of Lesko (.476), Warden (.450), Kaszer (.450) and Kirsch (.400), complemented offensively by Kosko (.393), Lippincott (.333) and Steinmetz (.321).

Steinmetz is a Pitt-Greensburg recruit, McGough is committed to Point Park while Lippincott plans to attend a prep school in Florida for a year.

Warden signed with Penn State in October. One of the key factors in his decision was the Nittany Lions coaching staff.

“I felt super confident around them and excited to be a part of what they are building up there,” Warden said. “I believe coach (Mike) Gambino and the rest of the staff can take the baseball program a long way and be a top contender.

“Also, the development up there couldn’t be better. I couldn’t imagine a better situation in going to Penn State a couple of hours away from home and living my dream of playing baseball at that level.”

Warden also considered attending Cincinnati or Youngstown State, along with other schools.

“These were also great opportunities,” he said, “and I’m grateful for all these opportunities. At the end of the day though, Penn State was 100% the right choice for me.”

Siemon, a West Virginia Wesleyan recruit, leads an experienced TJ pitching rotation that also includes Lippincott and two top sophomores, Colin Pearson and Dom Metz.

“I am very happy with my team right now,” said Lippincott, one of five TJ football players on the baseball team. “Everyone is playing their role and doing whatever we can do to find a way to win. Our expectations are to win WPIAL and state championships.”

Lesko agreed.

“Our expectation is to get a ring at the end,” he said, “but the only way to get there is to focus week by week and continue to play how we have been playing.”

Seniors Aidan Whalen, Sam Winters, Wyatt Janosko and Mauro Salimbene add depth in the Jaguars’ outfield.

Warden (SS), Lippincott (RF), Lesko (P/DH), Kirsch (3B), Whalen (CF), McGough (LF), Siemon (1B) and Steinmetz (2B) all were returning starters this year. Whalen has a torn labrum but is hopeful of returning to action as a pinch runner by the end of the season.

Along with Lippincott, a 6-foot-2, 242-pound running back/defensive end, TJ gridders playing baseball this spring include Kosko (QB/DB), Metz (OL/DL), Whalen (RB/DB) and freshman C/INF Josh Chalovich (OL/DL).

“Noah Kaszer and Luke Kosko didn’t play baseball last year and both have made big contributions to this year’s success so far,” Vickers said.

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