State baseball: Unexpected pitching prowess powers St. Petersburg Catholic

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Tue. May 22, 2012 | Rodney Page | Email

State baseball: Unexpected pitching prowess powers St. Petersburg Catholic

ST. PETERSBURG — Stewart Wilkes wanted to do something more to help St. Petersburg Catholic this season.

He had been a designated hitter and third baseman.

“I got booted from third,’’ Wilkes said. “I’ve got rock hands.’’

He had been a rightfielder.

“That didn’t work out either,’’ he said. “I was always pulling something in my legs. I’ve got bad legs.’’

So for his senior season, he figured he’d give pitching a try. Wilkes hadn’t pitched since his Little League days. In fact, he didn’t play at all last year due to Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.

But the Barons lost two key pitchers from last season, Justin Tedder and Tim McKay, and were in need of some arms. Wilkes went to coach John Vigue and asked if he could pitch. Vigue gave him the go-ahead as long as he first threw for his summer-league team.

The result has been one of the main reasons St. Petersburg Catholic (20-9-1) is playing in the Class 3A state semifinals Wednesday against Delray Beach American Heritage (21-7). Wilkes, 7-1 with a 1.06 ERA in 59.2 innings, has taken the mound in some of the biggest games this season, including a 10-inning win over West Palm Beach King’s Academy in the region finals.

Wilkes will start in Port St. Lucie.

“I was a little nervous against Dixie Hollins (in the season opener),’’ Wilkes said. “But I love it now. I love having control of the game.’’

Wilkes isn’t the only Barons pitcher to come through. Entering the season, only Joey Saunders and Anthony Bragano had more than 15 innings in 2011, and Vigue was unsure who would round out his staff.

Will Gerdes stepped into the No. 2 starting spot after being used mostly as a catcher last season. He is 4-1 with a 1.19 ERA in 41.1 innings. Saunders is also 4-1 with a 2.33 ERA, Bragano has settled into a relief role with a 1.94 ERA in 18 innings pitched, and Jimmy Lynch has become the Barons’ closer late in the season.

Vigue went from not knowing who would be in his rotation to having several pitchers he can count on.

“Some of our best games were when six guys took the mound,’’ said Vigue, who doubles as the pitching coach. “They all got their touches and they loved it. We’re not just trying to ride one arm.’’

Like Wilkes, Lynch has become a bonus arm. A Lakewood transfer, he sat out last season with a torn labrum. As a senior, he wanted to do his part on the mound. He didn’t start throwing at full speed until early April and since then has appeared in six games, getting the win against King’s Academy.

If there is a save situation Wednesday, expect Lynch to have the ball.

“You get out there with a guy on base, they can’t score,’’ Lynch said. “You give up a base hit and the game is over. I like that. I like having the ball in that situation. It’s fun.’’

Lynch said SPC’s success on the mound is pretty simple.

“There are a lot of us who can throw strikes,’’ he said. “That’s the most important thing. It’s the main reason we’ve had success.’’

State baseball semifinals
Where: Digital Domain Park, Port St. Lucie

Admission: $9 per session; parking is $7

TV: Finals on BHSN

On the Web: Follow @LauraHomeTeam and @RodneyHomeTeam on Twitter for live updates.

Class 3A: Tampa Prep vs. Jacksonville Providence, 10 a.m. today

Class 3A: Delray Beach American Heritage vs. St. Petersburg Catholic, 4 today

More on American Heritage vs. SPC
Who to watch
: St. Petersburg Catholic — OF Dakota Sarafin (.402, 19 RBIs), OF Jacob McFadden (.375, 15 RBIs, 13 SB), SS Max Geller (.353, four triples), RHP Stewart Wilkes (7-1, 1.06 ERA), 1B Corey Baptist (.333, four HRs). American Heritage — LHP Dylan Silva (6-2, Florida State bound), LHP Dylan Arnold (7-3, 1.59 ERA).

Notes: This is St. Petersburg Catholic’s first state semifinal appearance since 1975. …American Heritage last played in the state tournament in 2007. …The Stallions’ past four wins have been by one run. In the region final, American Heritage scored twice in the top of the seventh against Florida Christian to win 5-4.

Rodney Page can be reached at page@tampabay.com.

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