Rams’ St. Clair executes leadoff role ‘to a T’
STRASBURG – As longtime Strasburg High School baseball coach Jeff Smoot puts it, senior Noah St. Clair was everything any coach could want from a leadoff hitter in the Rams’ first two games of the season last week.
St. Clair got on base. He scored runs and stole bases. He worked the count and was nearly impossible to get out when he got behind, notching his first three hits of the season while battling through two-strike counts.
In two games last week, St. Clair went a combined 5-for-7 with three runs batted in, six runs scored and four stolen bases. For his effort in helping lead the Rams to a pair of wins, St. Clair has been named the Northern Virginia Daily’s Male Athlete of the Week for March 15-21.
“He was able to work the count, go deep in counts, willing to take some pitches,” Smoot said Tuesday afternoon. “In several cases not only did he then come through with a base hit with two strikes, but fouled off several pitches before he got the base hit. So from that standpoint, in those couple games there last week, he was a prototypical leadoff hitter and I would say executed the position to a T.”
St. Clair’s torrid start at the plate began last Wednesday night against Stonewall Jackson (a game Strasburg won 16-0 in five innings), when he went a perfect 4-for-4 on the same day he celebrated his 18th birthday.
“It was really nice just to be able to top that off with the icing on the cake, pretty much,” said St. Clair, who is now in his third season at the varsity level.
St. Clair’s first three hits against the Generals came after he fell behind in the count 0-2, including arguably his most productive at-bat of the night, a plate appearance in the bottom of the third inning that ended with a three-run double down the third-base line.
St. Clair, a left-hander, said he’s been working on hitting balls the opposite way in practice this season, and Smoot said he was impressed by the senior’s willingness to use the entire field despite possessing what Smoot calls an “enticing” bit of power behind his swing.
“I think one of the things that he has to really fight is the idea that he is not a pull hitter and he’s got to be willing, for our sake, to sacrifice a little bit of power to use the other side of the field,” Smoot said, “and that’s what he did the other night.”
St. Clair, who made the shift from left field to center field this season, also went 1-for-3 against Manassas Park last Thursday in a game that Strasburg went on to win 5-0.
St. Clair said he’s focused on being more aggressive on the bases this season after recording six steals last year, and he added that much of his growth at the plate over the last few seasons can be attributed to a change in his stance that he made during his sophomore year.
He said he studied college hitters and noticed how they timed opposing pitchers, which prompted him to open up his stance to make it easier for him to get his front foot down on time.
And it helps that St. Clair is brimming with confidence after experiencing success with Strasburg’s football and basketball programs already this school year.
“Coming through the last two sports we’ve done really well, and then coming to baseball I felt really confident,” said St. Clair, who also reached the Group 2A state baseball championship game with the Rams last season. “At the plate I guess that helps a lot, your confidence, to be able to go up there with two strikes and be able to battle.”
That confidence is only building for St. Clair after he reached base safely in his first five at-bats of the 2015 season.
“Just going up there your first at-bat, you get on base and your nerves are settling down. Your first at-bat of the season you’re always nervous,” St. Clair said. “The second at-bat you just get more and more settled down, and around my fourth and fifth one I just felt like I could step in and all the stress was gone.”
Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org