Photo by Bill Roseberry
Marquette senior Max Goepel delivers a pitch to the plate early in the season at Lloyd Hopkins Field inside Gordon Moore Park. The Explorers are riding high, ready to enter the Class 3A Jersey Regional at 1 p.m. Monday against Triad at Moore Park.
A sluggish start turned into a fervent finish for the Marquette Catholic Explorers.
After beginning the ‘15 season 0-4, the Explorers were 17-10 through Tuesday with 12 wins in their last 14 games.
“It’s just that the confidence is there,” second-year head coach Tim Fahnestock said. “In the beginning we kind of got in a funk where we had a tough stretch right off the bat. We started pressing and now I think everybody’s relaxed, the confidence got better, pitching came around, defense has picked up, the bats came alive, it all just started clicking one after another. We got healthy.
“These kids know they’re a good team and I think that first week we started doubting ourselves and then it started clicking, so that’s kind of where it’s gone. We’re getting momentum going for the playoffs.”
Marquette logged a signature win May 13 at Lloyd Hopkins Field inside Gordon Moore Park, beating St. Louis powerhouse Vianney 3-2.
“Yeah, definitely. That’s a good team to beat,” ace pitcher Max Goepel said of Vianney. “One of the best teams in the area for sure.”
Entering Monday, Goepel was 8-1 with a 1.63 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 60.2 innings pitched. Goepel is one of many Explorers stepping up their play. It may sound cliché, but Fahnestock is adamant it’s a total team effort.
“John Hughes has stepped up his pitching, Goepel has definitely stepped up, Jacob Eggering at third base has been hitting the ball real good and Danny Holtz behind the plate,” Fahnestock said. “We’ve had some sophomores with Liam Maher stepping up and hitting the ball real well, (Brady) McAfee has stepped in. It’s hard to say one person has stood out. I think it’s just every game you’ve got somebody else that’s stepped up and filled a void or gets a key hit.”
Hughes has complemented Goepel on the mound, going 3-4 with a 4.25 ERA. McAfee and Eggering have picked up some spot starts, too.
At the dish senior catcher Danny Holtz has been a spark, hitting a team-high .415 with three homers and 17 RBIs. Maher (.397, 15 RBIs), Eggering (.357, 15 RBIs) and Jacob File (.327, 6 RBIs) also have been catalysts.
“We’re just hitting the ball really well, we’re throwing good,” Goepel said. “John (Hughes) and I are both throwing good, the whole bullpen is throwing good and really we’re just hitting a lot better than we were at the start of the season. We all just have a lot more confidence.”
Defense has been a key factor, too, and at the heart of the defense is sophomore shortstop Zach Weinman. Weinman, who sports a .932 fielding percentage, noted the importance of good glove work.
“I’m just doing what I can,” Weinman said. “Defense is really important because if you’re a pitcher and you’ve got a good defense behind you that will give you a lot of confidence. It also gives a lot of confidence to the pitchers if we put up runs for them.”
It was the defense and the pitching that kept the Explorers alive with Vianney, but the offense provided the exclamation point.
“(Against Vianney) it was a pitcher’s duel and we had good defense behind us and then each team had a good inning, they put up two and we put up three and that’s how it ended,” Weinman said.
“I hit one toward shortstop and beat it out and we ended up with bases loaded and then Eggering had a full count with two outs and he came up big and hit a double.”
Fahnestock points to some other key victories besides the Vianney gem, though.
“You look back at the CM game, that was a big victory, Roxana was a close game and a big victory and then Vianney,” Fahnestock said. “We were behind, everything happened with two outs, we scored three runs, go up 3-2 and hold them. It was a great confidence booster for the playoffs.”
The playoffs definitely won’t be a cakewalk. Marquette is mired in the rugged Class 3A Jersey Regional with Civic Memorial, Highland, Triad and the host Panthers. The No. 4-seeded Explorers kick things off with a 1 p.m. play-in game with No. 5 Triad at Moore Park on Memorial Day.
It’s a regional where everyone has beaten up on each other, so it’s wide open.
“In the Valley everybody beat everybody,” Fahnestock said. “We lost to Jersey and Triad early, then we beat CM and we don’t play Highland. It’s tough to say that there is one team that’s a clear-cut No. 1 because Triad just beat Jerseyville. We’re playing the play-in game against Triad and then if we win that one we play on Wednesday against Jerseyville. We will just take it one game at a time.”
Marquette lost to Triad 7-3 on March 21 at Moore Park. Weinman said the Explorers are looking for revenge.
“I remember (Triad) beating us (earlier) and then I remember last year as a freshman we went to Triad and lost that game in the first round,” Weinman said. “I think we’re going to try and get that win back this year and try and remember last year and play our best baseball like we’ve been doing.”
There’s no doubt Marquette is battle-tested.
“It feels good to get going right before the playoffs start,” Goepel said.
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