First things first.
“We’re excited to be playing,” Ed Freije said.
While that theme helps define Cathedral High School’s 2021 baseball season, there’s another – very familiar – theme, and that’s this: The Irish want to win – at the highest level.
Freije, entering his fifth season as the Irish’s baseball coach, recently said the Irish are pleased to be playing after losing the 2020 season to COVID-19. But the program’s usual standards of competing to go deep in the postseason remain real.
“We go into every year program-wise with the expectations of winning the state championship,” Freije said. “That’s not changed. We had a year off and a lot of new faces, but that’s the expectation. There are definitely some good teams in the area and in the state of Indiana; I like our schedule and I think we’ve put together a good schedule where we’re playing a lot of top teams.
“That’s going to kind of tell us here we’re at. So far, it has worked out. We’ll kind of see how that goes the rest of the way.”
The Irish, No. 4 in the Class 4A in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association rankings in mid-April, won the sectional title from 2017-2019 and won the Class 4A state title in 2017 with an unbeaten 29-0 season. They were 8-1-2 through 11 games in 2021 – a start that emphasized longtime program strengths.
“We take a lot of pride in our pitching and defense, and that’s where we’ll again try to hang our hat and be as solid as we can,” Freije said. “We’ve got some depth on the mound. We feel like we’ve got some junior and senior arms we can put out there and compete.
“We’ve been a little inconsistent defensively so far. That’s something we as coaches are struggling with a bit. We definitely need to be sharper there.”
Freije said missing the 2020 season because of COVID-19 gave the beginning of the ’21 season an unusual dynamic.
“We’re going in, as a lot of programs are, with a lot of unknowns,” Frejie said. “We’re still trying to figure a lot of things out. That really hit home those first few days of practice. We like to pretty much hit the ground running with all of our guys – freshmen through seniors. Those first few days we kind of realized, ‘It’s been a couple of years since we’ve done this and some of these kids were in middle school.’ They weren’t even with us. That was a little bit of a reality check.
“We kind of took a step back, looked ourselves in the mirror, refreshed and started over a bit.”
The 2021 Irish baseball team is led by a 13-player senior class that includes three players who played key roles as sophomores in 2019 – righthanded pitcher/shortstop Chris Gallagher, centerfielder Camden Jordan and pitcher/first-baseman Cade Conlon.
“Both handle the bat well and when they’re on base they can wreak havoc as runners,” Freije said of the 1-2 offensive punch of Gallagher/Jordan that had 35 combined stolen bases through 11 games. “We want to put a lot of pressure on the defense with those two guys. Those guys set the stage for what comes after them.”
Other key seniors for the Irish in 2021 include: second baseman Andrew Davey, first baseman/lefthanded pitcher Aiden Muska, designated hitter/first baseman Kevin Collins, third baseman Ben Hanchar, outfielders Reece Koehler, outfielder Will Phillips, Eli Carroll and Nick Foster, catcher Nolan Hastings and lefthanded pitcher Eamon Hays.
‘We’re a senior-heavy lineup but we have some young guys who factor in as well,” Freije said. “We as a program are going to try to be as solid as we can pitching and defense. We want to compete at a high level in our at bats and try to have productive team at-bats.
“We’ve been fortunate to have a pretty good go at that so far.”
The young group includes: freshman catcher J.T. Stiner, sophomore infielders David Ayers and Kyuss Gargett and junior pitchers Dylan Haslett and Nick Bassi, junior outfielder/pitcher Alexander Wright and sophomore outfielder Carson Johnson.
“We’re really trying to keep guys involved and get them some good varsity experience even through in some cases they’re behind some seniors,” Freije said.
And while expectations are high as always for 2021, Freije said the circumstances of the previous season give the new year a unique – and important – perspective.
“It’s been a long year plus without much baseball,” Freije said. “We had a pretty good fall and winter workouts. We’re excited about the opportunity to take the field again with this group. We miss the seniors who graduated last year who didn’t get the opportunity to take the field with us. That message of not taking it for granted and not knowing how things will play out … it definitely fits for us.”