St. Louis Dirtbags off to 5-2 start this year; set sights on earning second division title

By Robert Chalupny

Formerly known as the Johnny Mac Thunder, the Southside Dirtbags 18-U played their inaugural season in the St. Louis Amateur Baseball Association last year, winning the South Division.

The Dirtbags expect to be even better this year, according to Coach Mike St. Cin, who was named SLABA’s Coach of the Year last year — his first season with the club.

“Every single game we play, I expect us to have a chance to win,” he told the Call.

The Dirtbags boast a 5-2 record, including two tournament losses that eventually were rained out. The five wins are all SLABA wins, including beating the Blazers 3-2 on Saturday and the Tigers 4-3 on Sunday.

The Dirtbags have several attributes that are all good reasons to expect success this summer, but one should be key, according to St. Cin.

In SLABA, each team has several teams divided by age group. This year’s team was in the 17-U group last year, but played at the 18-U level all season, so experience will be an intangible for the current squad.

“I expect us to win the league, just because they played so well last year as younger guys up a level …,” St. Cin said. “Now that we’re on the same age level as everyone else, I expect us to win again and play even better than we did last year.”

The Dirtbags have strengths all around the diamond to help them back to a division title, according to the coach.

“The strength of this team will be our pitching staff. We’ve added quite a few more pitchers this year than we did last year. So we’ll never be short on pitching in a tournament,” he said.

“Defense will be a strength … I mean honestly, last year we hit pretty well, but it was timely hitting that we lacked and you could even say power — just because we were a little bit younger and not as strong as last year,” St. Cin added.

“… We’ve already hit four home runs this year, and I think we hit one all of last summer, which just goes to show you the difference in a year.”

The pitching staff is led by Oakville High’s ace Ryan Brady, who posted a 17-1 varsity career with the Tigers. He also played for the Dirtbags last season. Brady will play college baseball at the University of Evansville.

Jack Kemper of Vianney and Matt Causino of St. Mary’s are a few other pitchers to watch this season.

On offense is last year’s SLABA MVP Andrew Waller, who returns for the Dirtbags, as well as Nick Knese, who hit three home runs in a game earlier this season against the Barnstomers.

Ryan Lange and Andy Oliver also are expected to be substantial contributors this season, St. Cin said.

The only potential hurdle is “a lack of concentration on a game-to-game business,” according to St. Cin. Because the players have graduated from high school and have their college plans lined up, the potential exists for them to let their guard down once in a while.

“It’s a good group of guys. It’s a good mix and it’s their second year being together. It should be fun,” St. Cin said.