Whether on the mound, in the field or at the plate, senior Jose Perez has shown a knack for coming through for the St. Mary’s baseball team time and again this season.
Not bad for someone who can count on one hand his years of organized experience in the game heading into this season.
Even better is what Perez and company are accomplishing these days at St. Mary’s. The Crusaders (10-0) enter Saturday’s home doubleheader against Harrisburg (5-2) as one of only three undefeated baseball teams at the Class 3A level, and one of four overall in the state.
“I think it’s just us doing the small things like making plays and just pitching and playing defense,” the 17-year-old Perez says of his team’s early success. “That’s what we do best.”
As to what Perez does best, well that’s another matter entirely.
“There’s no doubt about it, he does it all for us,” says St. Mary’s head coach Sean Gallagher. “He does it in the field, he does it on the mound … he’s just an incredible competitor and he’s just hitting the cover off the ball. He’s on a run.”
Perez is one of three St. Mary’s regulars batting .500 or above at .516 with 14 runs and six RBIs. The 5-foot-8, 165-pound standout has only four strikeouts in 39 at-bats as the Crusaders’ leadoff hitter in his first year with the team since transferring from Ashland High over the summer.
“I’ve coached a lot of kids and he’s got the quickest bat speed, it’s incredible,” says Gallagher. “For this kid with two strikes, you feel like he’s just stepping into the box. There’s so much confidence in his hands and they’re so fast you just can’t get anything past this kid.”
On the basepaths, Perez is one of many Crusaders able to put pressure on the defense with his 17 stolen bases.
“He’s what I call a mature baseball player,” says Gallagher. “He’s an educated baseball player, meaning that it’s his craft, he loves the game. When you watch him play, he is taking baseball to a whole other level.”
Those skills almost bely his experience level. Perez says he didn’t really get into organized baseball until a friend brought him into the game in seventh grade.
“It took a while to be successful,” he notes.
He played second base and didn’t pitch while playing for Ashland but since he’s joined St. Mary’s, he’s been a fixture at shortstop and on the mound.
“It’s just been a new start and I love it,” Perez says of shifting schools.
He’s committed only one error through 10 games with a .958 fielding percentage and has a repertoire of four pitches that has helped him secure a 3-0 record and 0.74 ERA on the mound. He has struck out 20 and walked two in 19 innings.
“He doesn’t throw 90 miles per hour but he made pitching his craft by developing four pitches,” says Gallagher. “He’s about 75 to 80 percent accurate with all his pitches, too, which makes him dangerous, and he really knows how to sequence his pitches.”
Perez, who played with St. Mary’s last summer, says he worked through a pitching regimen Gallagher provided in the offseason and gained a lot of confidence as a pitcher in the winter. His early success in the spring has only served to strengthen his resolve when on the mound.
“It feels good right now,” says Perez. “I like pitching. I l just like how the pace is and how you can control everything.”
Perez credits his coach for helping him develop as a player.
“Sean is one of the greatest coaches I’ve had,” he says. “He’s just really energized and he brings everyone into the game.”
That second part is no problem, Perez says, because there are so many standout players on a St. Mary’s squad that is chasing its first state championship since 1982. The bulk of the roster is in its third season together at the varsity level, fourth for some, and has reached the 3A state quarterfinals in the past two seasons.
“There’s so many other people willing to contribute so that makes us all have confidence,” says Perez. “I knew we had the talent to do this. If we can pull it all together then we could go far.”
Senior second baseman Brady Robison leads St. Mary’s with a .588 batting average in six games to go with nine runs and seven RBIs, while junior first baseman Joe Johnson is batting .464 with 18 runs, nine RBIs and 19 stolen bases and boasts a 3-0 pitching record with one save and a 1.05 ERA.
Senior catcher Ty Mulholland, who played with Perez as a freshman at Ashland, is batting .500 with eight runs and six RBIs, and junior Ben Robinson is batting .300 with nine RBIs.
Junior Travis Danielson joins Perez and Johnson in being a leading two-way threat with a .310 batting average and team-high 11 RBIs with eight runs to complement a 2-0 record and 0.50 ERA.
“The team is really jelling,” says Gallagher. “They’ve been playing together for three years now, we lost Spencer McCabe but we added Jose, and I think this is our year.”
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry