Photo by Bill Roseberry
Marquette senior Danny Holtz (left) talks to head coach Tim Fahnestock (right) prior to an at-bat in the Class 3A Jersey Regional semis against host Jersey. Holtz was the leading hitter and solid leader on an Explorers’ team that finished 18-12 and won a share of the Prairie State Conference title.
A strong second half, buoyed by a nine-game winning streak, provided the Marquette Catholic baseball squad with a booster shot of confidence this season.
And it should give the Explorers ample encouragement for 2016. They intend to build on a successful spring that featured an 18-12 record and Class 3A regional semifinal appearance.
“We really had some young kids step up for us this season,” second-year Marquette coach Tim Fahnestock said. “We had some surprises and they are some pluses we take out of this season.
“It was a good year.”
The Explorers pretty much saved their best for last. The long winning string helped set the table for postseason play. Marquette, seeded fourth in the five-team Class 3A Jersey Regional, knocked off Triad, 2-0, before bowing to top-seeded Jersey, 6-5.
Jersey coach Darren Perdun noted, “We may not have had a dominant team in our regional, but all of them were good ones — the four Mississippi Conference teams and Marquette.”
Once 0-4, the Explorers won 13 of their final 17 games. They shared the Prairie State Conference title with Nokomis and posted key nonconference victories over Roxana, Civic Memorial, Triad and Vianney of St. Louis.
“We started a little rough, but we found our legs,” Fahnestock said. “Our bats came alive and we became more aggressive at the plate. Our pitching came alive, too.”
Fahnestock hopes to increase the success factor next year. The Explorers went 19-11 during his initial season in 2014, so they are headed in the right direction.
Just three years ago, they won 28 games and took third in the IHSA Class 1A finals. Marquette baseball has a deep tradition, including two small-school state championships (1980 and 1984) and a runner-up finish (1988) during coach Greg DeCourcey’s long run at the school.
His teams won more than 600 games from 1977-2007.
“All of our kids are outstanding kids and we had great senior leadership,” Fahnestock said. “Losing those seniors (via graduation) are like losing sons. We had a close-knit group of players and a good mix of kids.”
Pitchers Max Goepel and John Hughes were among the seniors serving as leaders. Goepel, owner of a 9-2 record, emerged as the team’s ace and shut out Triad in the regional opener. Hughes gave a gutsy performance against Jersey in a game where the Panthers prevailed with a two-run seventh.
“It was a back and forth game and they finished on top,” Fahnestock said of the Panthers. “I thought that John really wanted it and he stepped up, giving everything he had. He really wanted it.”
Fahnestock added, “I was happy the way Max and John pitched for us. Both of them would take the baseball any time we needed them to do it.”
Senior third baseman/catcher Jacob Eggering first baseman Nate Siener and catcher/outfielder Danny Holtz had their share of big hits. Holtz clouted a three-run home run against Jersey, while Siener and Eggering combined for three hits and they reached base five times in that game.
Holtz led the team with four home runs, 20 RBIs and a .364 average. Eggering drove in 18 runs, including both against Triad in the regional matchup. For the season, he hit .338.
Sophomores Zach Weinman, Liam Maher and Brady McAfee are three players Fahnestock can build around for next season. Weinman played shortstop and ignited the offense from the leadoff spot by batting .262. Maher and McAfee each had two hits in the Jersey game and Maher had 16 RBIs for the season and hit .369.
Junior outfielder Jacob File, sophomore second baseman Nick Messenger and sophomore catcher/designated hitter Mike Neel are three more starters that figure highly in the Explorers’ plans. File batted .295.
“Our young players are going to learn more as they get additional experience,” Fahnestock said. “It’s not like the cupboard is empty for next season.”
Follow @StevePorter51 on Twitter