Thomas Jefferson baseball looking to smooth rough edges, peak at playoff time

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Sunday, April 23, 2023 | 11:01 AM


Thomas Jefferson’s baseball team rebounded nicely from a slow start to the 2023 season.

TJ went into its Easter break riding a five-game winning streak and with a 5-2 record.

“I think we are doing well, but there’s a lot of season left to play,” coach Tim Vickers said earlier this spring. “Offensively, we are swinging pretty well. We have some work to do defensively and definitely need to clean up some ‘small ball’ type stuff that every team needs for when the going gets tough.”

The Jaguars won close games and some not-so-close decisions.

After salvaging a 5-4 win against Lutheran Southern of St. Louis at Baseball City (Fla.) Spring Training, TJ rolled past WPIAL opponents Keystone Oaks, 12-2, and Belle Vernon, 10-3. The Jaguars opened Section 3-4A play with 13-2 and 3-2 victories against McKeesport.

Elias Lippincott, a junior pitcher/outfielder, doubled and homered to drive in four runs in TJ’s section opener April 3 against McKeesport.

“We have been playing very well so far as a team,” Lippincott said. “We have little things to clean up, but other than that, I am happy with how we are doing.

“I expect us to win it all. We have a big goal in mind and are ready to do whatever (it takes) to complete it.”

Lance Vickers, a senior catcher and third-year starter (the 2020 season was wiped out due to the covid pandemic), tripled and drove in three runs against the Tigers.

Vickers, the coach’s son, and Lippincott are two of six returning starters from last year’s WPIAL and PIAA playoff club.

They’ve been reunited with senior pitcher Cody Karcher, junior shortstop Alec Warden and sophomores Carter Kirsch (3B) and Tyler Lesko (P/1B).

“Our expectations have been the same since the end of last year,” Warden said. “Every single player in the program holds themselves and their teammates to a high standard of play. We take everything one pitch, inning and game at time. Our overall goal is to make the playoffs. From there, our goal is to keep winning. I think we have performed well all around. Our bats could get a little better, but it’s something we are working towards every day.

“As of now, I don’t play other sports. All my time and effort are in baseball, and I love it that way.”

Along with the returning starters, other key players at TJ include juniors Ethan Steinmetz (2B), Aidan Whalen (CF), Brady Hodge (OF/P), Brady McGough (OF/1B/P), J.J. Siemon (P/1B) and Wyatt Janosko (OF).

“Brady Hodge has been a force with a bat and on the mound,” said his coach.

TJ’s starting lineup typically is as follows: Kirsch (3B), Warden (SS), Vickers (C), Lesko (P/DH), Lippincott (RF), Whalen (CF), McGough (LF), Siemon (1B), Steinmetz (2B).

Lesko, Lippincott and Karcher lead the Jaguars’ pitching corps.

“Our starting lineup can change,” Warden said, “often depending on who’s pitching and what the outfield is looking like.”

The Jaguars finished 15-9 overall and advanced to the WPIAL 5A semifinals and PIAA first round last season.

After starting out 6-1, TJ lost twice, won four in a row, then lost three straight and ended the regular season with three victories to build momentum for the playoffs.

The Jaguars finished third last year in arguably the toughest 5A section, with Peters Township and Bethel Park, the top two seeds in the playoffs, taking first and second place.

TJ, which was the 12th seed, upset No. 5 Latrobe, 14-7, in the WPIAL first round and edged No. 13 Chartiers Valley, 1-0, in the quarterfinals.

“As always, we are hoping to make the playoffs and see where we go from there,” coach Vickers said. “Last year was a good example of a team getting hot at the right time and making a little playoff run. I know this year’s group wants to give themselves a chance to do the same or even more.”

The Jaguars suffered back-to-back losses to Chartiers Valley in April before regrouping to beat South Park, 5-4, in a nonsection game.

TJ’s section season is scheduled to end May 1-2 with back-to-back games against Woodland Hills.

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