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CEDAR RAPIDS — The Cedar Rapids Xavier baseball team expected this day but wasn’t sure exactly when it would arrive.
The Saints season without Mitch Keller in the lineup began Friday night, and did not start well.
Cedar Rapids Prairie recorded a Mississippi Valley Conference doubleheader sweep of Xavier, needing five innings for an 11-1 win in the opener and capping the night with a 5-2 victory at Prairie.
Keller was selected Thursday by the Pittsburgh Pirates with the 64th overall pick in the second round of the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft. He was in uniform but did not play against the Hawks. He has thrown his last strike and recorded his last putout for the Saints. Keller has not been in contact with the Pirates, yet but expects to soon.
“I’ll be at all their games,” Keller said about being in the Xavier dugout until details of when and where to report are finalized. “I still consider myself part of the team.”
Keller said he loves playing with this group and filling the shortstop position, but he won’t now that he has been drafted. Despite being happy and excited for the opportunity to play professionally, it is bittersweet to be a spectator in the dugout.
“It’s going to be hard,” Keller said. “These guys have been my friends since I was young. This being my last summer I won’t be able to play with them.”
The 6-foot-3 right-hander remains confident the Saints can continue success. The team has a strong core of seniors.
“We have great leaders,” said Keller, an all-district selection last year. “Our other guys will follow.”
Xavier Coach Dave Schemmel a lack of consistent pitching and execution in the field and at the plate hurt the Saints (5-4, 2-2). The roster is made up of good athletes with little experience, replacing seven starters from last season. He is hopeful they will progress each game.
“It’s going to take some time,” Schemmel said. “I feel we could have a good ballclub. We will see.”
Keller had to watch idly by as the Hawks handled Xavier in the first game, tallying four runs in the third, including an RBI single from Drew Yanecek and an RBI double from Jalen Rima, and four more in the fifth thanks to doubles from Rima and Corbin Day and two Saints errors.
In the nightcap, Prairie scored four runs on five hits in the second inning. Rima drove in the opening run with a base hit and scored on Trey Beckman’s two-run single. Day followed with a single to drive in Beckman, who has committed to play for Nebraska.
The Hawks used a team effort, getting timely hits, solid pitching and strong defense.
“You can’t point out one guy,” Prairie Coach Matt Thede said. “It’s a great sign of our team.”
Prairie has vastly improved in a short amount of time. Xavier beat the Hawks, 13-2, in the Metro tournament, starting the season 0-2. Prairie avenged that loss and is 4-3 overall with a 3-0 mark in the MVC.
“It was a great set of wins for us,” Thede said. “Our guys are really starting to believe in themselves. We’ve just focused on the fundamentals. Our pitchers have been great.”
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