The Herald Bulletin

Overnight Update

Sports

April 11, 2014

Third-ranked Tigers embrace challenge

ALEXANDRIA — While many baseball teams spent the preseason huddled inside the gymnasium waiting for their diamond to thaw/dry out, Alexandria was holding full practices in the great outdoors for much of this spring.

"I think we only missed about one or two days," Tigers coach Jeff Closser said. "We got outside a bunch. Our field does pretty good in the rain."

That's one advantage the third-ranked team in Class 2A hopes to take into this season. Ace pitcher Blaize Kelly certainly is another.

The dominant junior opened the season with a complete-game victory in a 4-0 win against Muncie South on Tuesday, allowing just three hits and striking out five.

Kelly surrendered just nine earned runs over 69 1/3 innings a year ago, finishing with an 8-1 record and two saves along with a 0.91 ERA.

"He's gonna be our horse," Closser said. "He's our No. 1 guy. Anytime you throw Blaize out there, you expect it to be a complete game. And he expects that. He's a tremendous competitor."

Kelly and the pitching staff could be asked to carry an offense that lost five seniors from last year's sectional championship team. At least in the early going.

Senior Kolby Haas and sophomore Braxton Moore figure to follow Kelly in the rotation. Another sophomore, Chet Maynard, is expected to return soon from injury. The underclassmen are both lefties, giving Closser southpaw starters for the first time in his eight seasons at the program's helm.

"I'm excited about our pitching staff," he said. "It's pretty deep."

That depth will be tested quickly in the Nick Muller Memorial Baseball Tournament. The Tigers drew the dreaded "play-in" game, meaning they'll need to win three times just to reach Saturday's final.

The path begins at 5 p.m. Tuesday against Anderson Prep at Pendleton Heights, and a win sets up a showdown with the defending tournament champion Arabians on Wednesday. Alexandria beat Pendleton Heights for the program's lone Muller title in 2012.

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