MYRTLE BEACH, S.C.—St. John's completed an impressive 4-0 opening weekend at the Caravelle Resorts Baseball at the Beach tournament, capping its trip with a 7-4 victory in 10 innings at Coastal Carolina. And the Red Storm stayed red hot with three wins in the second weekend of the season, racing out to a 7-0 start.
The Red Storm has a veteran lineup back this season, with eight starters returning from last year's team. St. John's is aiming for its record ninth Big East Conference championship, and second in three years. At the heart of those aspirations this season is senior catcher Troy Dixon, who hits cleanup and returns for his second season as the starting catcher.
Coach Ed Blankmeyer said having Dixon back is a boon for the Red Storm this season.
"He has experience, this is his second full year under his belt," Blankmeyer said. "Good catching, especially with a young pitching staff, is needed."
While the Red Storm has an older lineup, its pitching staff is much younger. Eleven of St. John's pitchers are freshmen or sophomores, including freshman lefthander Nick Mondak, who opened the season as its Sunday starter. The Red Storm staff also features freshman lefthander Jeff Belge and freshman righthander Gavin Hollowell, who both ranked on last year's BA 500.
Dixon said he wants to use his experience to help the young pitchers settle into the college game.
"I'm trying to help them as much as I can because when I was a freshman I looked up to some of the seniors," Dixon said. "It's tough playing up here and just easing them into the college level."
Dixon is coming off an impressive summer in the New England Collegiate Baseball League, where he was the No. 9 prospect. He won the batting title and was named MVP after hitting .371/.432/.530. That was a big jump from the spring, when he hit .253/.338/.339.
While Dixon's offensive progress was apparent over the summer, Blankmeyer has been impressed with his growth as a defender.
"I think he's become a better receiver," Blankmeyer said. "He understands how to get the most out of his pitcher, how to help the pitcher make adjustments. His throwing is good. Very quick release, not a great arm, but a quick release. He's gotten better."
Dixon said his summer playing for Newport gave him more confidence and helped him improve as a leader.
"In summer ball, you don't really know anybody," he said. "You don't know the pitchers and what they have, so I bring that here. Working with the pitching staff, leading these guys and showing them what it takes to win that Big East again."
St. John's has gotten off to a strong start to the season. On opening weekend, the Red Storm outscored its opponents 41-11, showing the potential of its veteran lineup. It is especially strong up the middle with Dixon behind the plate and its double-play combination of junior shortstop Jesse Berardi and sophomore second baseman Josh Shaw, the 2016 Big East freshman of the year, returning. Dixon is hitting .368/.500/.421 in six games this season, and Berardi and Shaw are both off to good starts as well.
With so many regulars back, Dixon said the Red Storm feel comfortable at the plate. Their experience will help them as they navigate a difficult road schedule at the outset of the season, leading into conference play.
"It's a big confidence booster," Dixon said. "We all go out there, seeing (Michael) Donadio, (Antony) Brocato, all these guys, you know that next guy's going to pick you up. That guy's been there and has the experience, it's a comforting thing."