No stopping the Saints

Posted: April 04, 2014

SOMETIMES the journey to the top is easier to navigate than the route you must take to sustain the summit.

As a junior last season, Ss. Neumann-Goretti High's Charlie Jerla wanted success so badly he could taste it.

After 2 years of understudy duties, Jerla thought he finally arrived last season when he earned a starting spot and was named a co-captain on the Saints baseball squad.

A Philadelphia original who moved to Florida as a child, Jerla transferred to N-G a week before freshman year began when his family moved back to Philly.

The 6-2, 180-pound outfielder/pitcher logged mostly JV innings during his first two campaigns, so earning a leadership role validated hours of hard work and sacrifice.

However, self-imposed pressure weighed on his shoulders and taxed his mind.

"I had an off year," Jerla said yesterday after the Saints drubbed West Catholic, 30-1, in three innings.

"I think the mental side of the game just wasn't there and it affected my play. I struggled hitting and I think it was all mental after that. I didn't have confidence in myself . . . I just wasn't getting hits at the right times like I expected. I put too much pressure on myself probably. I should have let my teammates help me out and not just put everything on my shoulders."

Now, alongside fellow senior captain Josh Ockimey, Jerla has a new approach and a scholarship to Marist to boot.

"Just play how I've been playing all my life," he said. "Just relax, go up there and do what I know how to do."

There wasn't much need for tension yesterday at 48th & Woodland. The Saints (4-1) hung 18 on the Burrs in the top of the first, an inning that saw 23 N-G batters step in and 14 runners cross the plate before out No. 1 was recorded.

Jerla, his confidence no longer in question, slapped a double batting cleanup his first time up and walked during at bat No. 2 of the frame. He finished 1-for-1 and was replaced later that inning as the Saints put in a few reserves.

Speaking of confidence, Ryan Goessler, the Burrs' coach, hopes his players keep theirs. The program was cut for two seasons but returned last year for a JV-only schedule.

"It's going to be a learning experience for the kids to see the level of baseball that's out here, work hard and grow themselves as young men and baseball layers," he said.

"It's tough when you're playing against the upper teams," Goessler continued. "Neumann-Goretti is one of the best teams. They always are. You really just have to emphasize the good things to them, try to boost their confidence so they feel good about themselves and want to come back and keep playing baseball."

With that in mind, the Burrs kept playing hard despite the lopsided scoreboard. Sophomore Michael Hand, who started on the mound, singled in the first and was later driven in by junior first baseman Fareed Mizelle.

Despite committing 10 errors, walking 14 batters and hitting two more, the Burrs made a few nice defensive plays late and, to their credit, appeared to stay engaged along with a small, but loyal group of fans.

"First inning we give up a bunch of outs," Goessler said. "Errors are contagious. You make a few, walk a few guys and things just escalate and it can get out of hand real quick and that's what happened."

To N-G's credit, the dogs were called off early and there was never any hint of bad blood or poor sportsmanship. Wild hacks, sometimes at eye-ball level, made it clear first-year Saints coach Kevin Schneider gave the order to not prolong the inevitable.

The barrel-chested Ockimey, a lefthanded masher of baseballs coveted by any coach/scout with sight, finished 5-for-5 with three doubles, seven RBI and a three-run homer. Sophomore Brian Verratti added a single and double while freshman Jarred Healey notched the same.

As for Jerla, who moved from Venice, Fla., when his family settled on the 1500 block of Second Street in South Philly, he still misses friends and the weather from down south.

But that confidence issue, not so much right now.

He's hitting 5-for-13 (.385) with five runs scored and four RBI in five games. As a pitcher, he has thrown just shy of nine innings with 17 strikeouts and a 2.42 ERA according to his coaches.

"Just building self-confidence and working hard in the offense," he said of his turnaround. "Just knowing that you can do it and you don't need to put so much pressure on yourself. Just play the game I've been playing since I was 3."

On Twitter: @AceCarterDN

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