Baseball season is right around the corner, and while the weather is warming, the game is changing. Bigger bases, ghost runners, pitch clocks, shift limitations, you name it. Thankfully in the world of High School sports, this season will be just like the last, except for the crop of new talent ready to take center stage in 2023. Practices are getting underway and teams are champing at the bit to show off their diving catches, filthy curves, frozen ropes, barreled-up sweet spots and blinding flashes of leather.
Ameritime Sports is back in the trenches, eye-blacked up and excited to bring you the breakdowns of this year’s teams. Up next are the Jefferson R7 Blue Jays.
While the Blue Jays had a rough regular season in 2022, going just 9-15, they were able to make some noise in the District Tournament. They beat Grandview in the first round of play after an offensive surge and a 13-3 final. R7 would score in every inning including a six-run second frame with RBI hits from Kole Williams, Gavin Theodoro and Max Schnitzler.
Head Coach Robert Kuehnle feels his squad will make waves this year saying, “I think that we had a lot of guys who were not used to the Varsity level yet. For most of them, that was their first year on Varsity and now that we have a year under our belt, I think that we will come out with much more confidence in the regular season and the postseason.”
Sam Stokes, Schnitzler and Theodoro all return this season after hitting over .300 a year ago. The trio, who all finished in the top-five on the team in batting average, combined for 65 hits, nine of which were extra base-hits, and were three of just six players to play in 20 or more games for Jefferson.
Despite losing Seniors Colton Richardson, Sam Hawley and Jack Hueter, the Blue Jays plan to be a completely different team this year. Between getting work in during the offseason and having his guys with more varsity experience, the first week back should be an exciting one for Kuehnle’s Blue Jays squad.
Despite the turnover, the rotation will have some familiar faces. Returners such as Cole Robinson (26.0 IP), Schnitzler (14.0 IP) and Stokes (18.1 IP), who all saw notable innings last year, will help to fill out Kuehnle’s game generals as they add in more competition. A season ago, Robinson, Schnitzler and Stokes combined for 59 of the team’s 111 strikeouts, while Robinson led the team in wins.
“We have a lot of arms, and we just need to see what works for us. We have added more games this year than ever before, so like I tell my guys, it’s all hands-on deck when it comes to the bump.”
The Jays will look to their youth this season to step up and make an impact on the Varsity roster, but the returning upperclassmen will be key in their development. Coach Kuehnle eagerly spoke to this with, “I am excited to see what our younger guys can bring to the table, and can’t wait to see how our older guys respond.”
However with inexperience comes a learning curve. There will be holes to fill and bumps along the way, but the Blue Jays Head Coach seems cautiously optimistic, saying, “I think that we have a lot of question marks, as do a lot of programs, but i feel confident where we are, and think that we have as good a shot as anybody.”
Moving into the 2023 season, Jefferson’s biggest games are shaping up to be against Valle Catholic and rival Festus. When asked about the upcoming slate of games, Kuehnle said, “I like the Valle Catholic game early in the season and the Festus game, our cross-town rivals, especially with the year that they had last year. I think that tests like those really tell you what you have.”
This Jefferson squad may be a work in progress, but they are well coached and have a solid core of talent. It stands to reason that they should improve on last year’s finish and make some noise in 2023.
Good luck Blue Jays!