On the first day of baseball tryouts at John Carroll School this spring, a No. 25 flag was raised high in the air on a hill just behind the field's backstop. It will remain up until the end of the Patriots' baseball season.
The flag honors Josh Hamer, who was a sophomore on the John Carroll baseball team when he was killed in a car accident March 2, 2017.
Though it's been more than a year since Hamer died, the entire John Carroll baseball program has made sure not to forget how special Hamer was.
"Part of the healing for all of us has been to keep telling stories about Josh and how we remember him in various ways," head coach Darrion Siler said. "We have patches on the bottom of our bats, uniforms and helmets. We also have a No. 25 sign that's on our fence in right field, and after games we run out, tap the sign and spend a minute with him. He's in our hearts, always."
Last season, a young Patriots team went 13-14, a record Siler said was the best the group could hope for while coping with the death of their friend.
This year has been a completely different story. John Carroll is 11-0, including a 7-0 mark in Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association "A" conference play that has the team sitting alone atop the league's standings.
"It's just the consistency of us staying true to ourselves," senior center fielder Brad Hock said. "Our pitchers have been keeping us in games, and the defense has supported them well. Our offense has also been able to consistently score runs, which we weren't always able to do last year."
The group has enjoyed a fast start on offense, averaging more than seven runs per game. The Patriots have been paced by senior third baseman Ryan Archibald, a University of Arizona commit, who's hitting .567, with 18 RBIs and four home runs.
Though the offense has improved from 2017, John Carroll's pitching and defense has been the key to its unbeaten month of play. John Carroll has posted a 1.82 ERA, while the defense has committed just 12 errors.
The leader of the unit is senior lefty Nick Collier, who's committed to play collegiately at Towson. Collier is 5-0 with one save, tossing 26 innings while allowing just eight hits and two runs. He's pitched to a 0.53 ERA, while striking out 45 batters. Collier's best performance thus far came against Archbishop Curley April 5, when he threw a no-hitter and struck out 14 batters.
"We've been working on our pitching all year and that's been carrying the team," Collier said. "We've already thrown a few shutouts and held opponents to just one run plenty of times. It's been great."
The Patriots will need to continue to play well if they want to maintain the top spot in the conference.
The team still has two matchups on the schedule with perennial powerhouse Archbishop Spalding, which sits right behind John Carroll in the conference standings. Rematches with other top teams like Archbishop Curley, Calvert Hall and Mount St. Joseph also remain.
John Carroll's remaining schedule features conference contests, with the exception of one game against Rising Sun April 20, which the Patriots have circled as a must win.
"It's [Hamer's] memorial game at IronBird Stadium [in Aberdeen], so we're really excited for that one," Archibald said. "That one will mean a lot to a lot of people. Josh's family will be there and even though it isn't a conference game, it'll be extremely meaningful."
It won't be the only emotional moment for John Carroll if the team keeps winning. The program hasn't won a league championship since1995. For the players, there would be no better way to honor Hamer than changing that narrative.
Meanwhile, the No. 25 flag will continue to flutter just behind the backstop until May 20, when the conference championship is scheduled to be played. The team hopes to then take it down -- after one final win.
"It just makes it more emotional," senior second baseman Grant Astle said. "If the accident didn't happen, he would've been here for all of this. It would be a big moment not just for the baseball program but his family and the rest of the school."
Courtesy of Mike Anderson Photography