As sure as the cold and snow turn to sunshine and warm spring breezes, the Francis Howell baseball club once again is showing the St. Louis area why it is among the elite programs on the diamond.
Heading into the final few days of March and the start of April, the Vikings were rolling along with virtually no glitches as Howell has come out of the gate fast with a blistering 6-1 start.
Howell, ranked sixth among area large schools, has done it with solid, timely hitting, sharp fielding, and some steady pitching.
“We don’t have the big names or bats like last year with Nic Perkins or Eli Dilday, but top to bottom we have got guys that can hit, sacrifice runners over and put the ball in play,” coach Tony Perkins said. “There are only three seniors in the lineup with a lot of juniors, so we’re still feeling things out but I like the way we’re playing.”
At the plate, it’s been the cracking bats of Ryan Perkins, Justin Perkins and Mason King.
Ryan Perkins, the coach’s son and a junior outfielder, is hitting a team-leading .538 with four RBIs. His brother Justin, a junior infielder, has been hot with the bat, hitting a strong .421 with eight hits and three RBIs.
“Ryan Perkins has probably been our best hitter so far,” Perkins said. “He and Justin both started for us last year, and they hit well for us and have a high on-base percentage as well.”
King, a senior outfielder/pitcher, is hitting .333 with a .474 on-base percentage, four runs scored and four RBIs.
Senior infielder Ryan Grantham gives Howell experience and stability in the middle of the infield at second base.
Junior backstop Luke Kahle has taken over behind the plate for standout catcher Nic Perkins, who graduated last year and moved on to the University of Mississippi. So far, Kahle has given the Vikings just what they needed and plenty more in handling the Howell pitching staff. The junior receiver has 18 putouts and a stout .947 fielding percentage going into early April.
“Luke has filled in real well for us at catcher and done a super job,” Perkins said. “We preach to all of our guys not to try to fill the shoes of those who were here before them but to go and try to make their own mark.”
Pitching also has been a major key for the Vikings in getting them out to another strong start.
Braydon Cook, King, Ryan Perkins and Zack Hunsicker have all started games on the mound for Howell. Chase Beiter, Brandon Shaiper, Austin Turnbough and Will Whiteman have been working in out of the bullpen.
Despite two no decisions in two starts, Cook has a solid 2.63 earned run average while King’s ERA is a gaudy 1.75 in pitching his first two games.
Better fielding defense also has allowed Howell to be much tougher in the early part of its 2015 campaign. In 2014, the Vikings were uncharacteristically shaky in the field at times. That has not been the case so far this year.
“Last year we played (defense) like a slow pitch (softball) team,” Perkins joked. “This year we have played defense so much better than we did last year.”
Thanks to winning state championships in 2011 and 2013, and having a runner-up finish in the 2014 state tournament, expectations are high for Howell in 2015. From the underclassmen in the freshmen and JV rosters all the way up to the varsity, the bar is set high for success. Nothing less than a trip to the Class 5 tournament will satisfy this junior-heavy group.
“The younger players know that the bar is set high when they come in, because they see us at the state tournament, how we warm up and how we prepare,” Perkins said. “We’re lucky that this is a baseball school and we’ve got kids come here that want to play baseball, that put in the work in the offseason and try to make their own mark in the program.”