Comet seniors set strong example in 2014
Published 11:45 pm Tuesday, May 13, 2014
By RYAN ARENA
LAPLACE — While a few other St. Charles Catholic teams ultimately advanced further than the 2014 quarterfinalist Comets, coach Wayne Stein called this year’s team a special group.
With the tone set by seven seniors, this Comets team set an example of unselfishness for its underclassman to pass on in future years.
“I’m so proud of my guys,” said Stein Tuesday, a day after his team’s 2-0 season-ending loss at Evangel. “When you look at this senior class, you’ve got seven guys who weren’t all returning starters, but guys who waited for their turn. You see a lot of kids who’ll say, ‘Oh, if I don’t play, I quit.’ We didn’t have one kid like that. They got everything out of their God-given talent. It’s why I’m hurting so much for them today.”
St. Charles had to replace five starters from 2013, including its most productive hitter and pitcher in Chad McNeil. The Comets also made a transition at coach, with Paul Waguespack stepping down for his longtime assistant Stein to take the lead role — though Waguespack stayed on as Stein’s assistant.
But the Comets quickly hinted that 2014 wouldn’t be a retooling season. They reeled off a string of impressive victories over top-tier teams in the final stretch of American Legion play last summer, with new starters stepping in — and stepping up — to produce impressive numbers.
Then St. Charles hit the ground running, outscoring its first five opponents by a combined 50-2 margin and winning 13 of its first 14 games.
“All seven of my seniors had really solid years. A lot of times, you see guys slump as a senior, but they were all solid. That’s rare,” said Stein.
When Stein spoke of players who had to wait for their chance, perhaps no one better exemplifies those words than Connor Western. The outfielder slumped as a junior, recording just four hits in 50 at-bats, and was replaced in the Comet starting lineup. But Western continued to work and turned things around, and then some as a senior. He hit safely in 27 of 34 games and hit over .400 in 2014.
“It’s just unheard of to do what he did,” said Stein. “It’s a true testament to his mental toughness.”
Western said that a change of his mental approach went a long way.
“It mainly came down to mindset,” he said. “If I go out there and just look at pitches, I’m not gonna hit them. I needed to go out and swing the bat and have confidence. Last year, my confidence wasn’t high. Over the summer, I started swinging the bat better … It wasn’t just me. I had a lot of help, a lot of coaching.”
While Western shifted to an attack mentality, shortstop Kameron Keller represents how different styles can lead down the same path of success. As the team’s leadoff hitter, Keller looks to work the opposing pitcher deep into the count.
“I just want to get on base. A walk’s as good as a single,” said Keller. “I like to let everyone see (the opposing pitcher’s) pitches and get an idea of what he’s got, see what he’s throwing off-speed, and get an idea of what we can do against him.”
Keller was one who wreaked havoc at the top of the lineup for SCC, which looked to best teams via a small-ball approach.
“We put pressure on teams. Steal, fake steal, anything we can to make you make a (defensive) play,” said Keller.
With McNeil gone, B.J. Waguespack and Mason Bordelon each stepped up as frontline pitchers to join fellow senior Connor Smith in the rotation. Waguespack strung together a collection of one and two-hitters this season in a true breakout campaign. Bordelon emerged as a true ace, taking the ball in the regional and quarterfinal games while putting together a strong offensive season in the heart of the Comet batting order.
And after years as a pitching specialist who didn’t bat, Smith became one of the Comets’ most reliable run-producers, showing his hitting prowess last summer was no accident.
“I can’t say enough about these guys,” said Stein. “Whatever we needed, they each made themselves into that guy.”
Brandon Klibert, meanwhile, began the season as a reserve. But the outfielder/pitcher worked his way back into the lineup as the season went on.
“And after that, he never looked back,” said Stein.
“He could have been angry, or become a problem, but he just worked his butt off to get back in there.”
Klibert said he and his senior teammates take the role as senior leaders seriously.
“It keeps a team together,” said Klibert. “We’ve been here so long, so you teach the younger guys how to do things correctly. Whatever you’re doing, you can improve … We really play for each other. Whenever someone’s down, the next guy wants the ball to make a play and pick them up.”
SCC has long prided itself on its defensive prowess. Second baseman Colin Bosco splits time in the field with Mason Bordelon, one of the Comets’ top pitchers who also plays second.
Bosco said the Comet philosophy is simple: the pitchers throw strikes, and he and his fellow defenders stay ready.
“We spend a lot of time working defensively in practice so we’re confident when we get out there,” said Bosco. “Our pitchers pound the zone and we know that we need to play the plays when they’re there.
“We don’t have a team of home run hitters that are gonna put people away early, but we know if we score a few, our defense can hold it.”
Many of the seniors have been playing together long before their time at St. Charles, a core that came together at St. Joan of Arc.
After churning out a 24-win season, they can leave with their heads held high.
“We’re really like brothers, said Western. “A lot of us have been playing together for 10 years. It’s a family.
“Coach Wayne and coach Wag always talk about the tradition here. It comes down to putting in the work and making yourself the best you can be.”