Coming into the 2012 high school baseball season, thought its Greyhounds might be pretty good this year.
And because the 'Hounds had good hitters from top to bottom, along with two returning No. 1 ace-caliber starting pitchers in seniors Sam Fox and Jeremy Phillips, that seemed like right-minded thinking.
But no one expected Clayton's ascent up the Suburban East Conference standings this year to be led by a sophomore who dominates opposing lineups nearly every time he takes the mound.
"What can I say? Nick Bax is having a great year for us," Clayton head baseball coach Craig Sucher said. "He's doing great at the plate, and he's really throwing the ball well on the mound."
Boy is he ever.
Bax, a 10th-grader who is 6-foot-4 and 185 pounds, has been a brilliant surprise. The Greyhounds are 13-5 this season after Bax pitched them to another win Tuesday night in a 10-1 victory over .
The Clayton lineup banged out 12 hits and 10 runs against four Whitfield pitchers.
But Bax was even better: He held the Warriors to just two hits in his five innings of work, struck out five and walked one.
"We've gotten some good pitching from all our guys this year," Sucher said. "It's something that those guys work hard at."
That work is paying off big time for the 'Hounds, especially Bax. He picked up his Suburban East-leading fourth win of the season against Whitfield and has moved into the conference lead in innings pitched (31 2/3 innings this season) and earned run average (1.55).
"It's been exciting to watch the development of some of our good young players," Sucher said. "We've got some really good seniors that do a good job at leading the young guys. And the young guys do a good job listening. So it's working out pretty well."
A couple of other young players Sucher has come to rely on include the freshman trio of Jake Brown, Justin Gellman and John Howard.
Brown and Gellman have been everyday starters in the Clayton lineup all season, and Howard has been serving as the Greyhounds' top relief pitcher with a team-high 10 appearances and three saves this season.
Fox and Phillips have been pretty fantastic on the mound for Clayton as well.
Fox is 3-2 and third in the Suburban East with a 1.73 ERA, while Phillips is undefeated on the mound at 3-0, with a 2.58 ERA (fourth-best in the conference) and 32 strikeouts (also the fourth-best total in the league).
The three dominant righthanders give Clayton the best starting staff in the conference with a combined 10-3 record and a collective 1.88 ERA.
Opposing teams have learned fast that they're just not going to score many runs on the Clayton pitching staff.
"We've still got to get better, though," Sucher said. "There's only a little while left until districts, and we've still got some things we need to work on, so we can hopefully be playing our best when districts get here."
This week, Clayton has games left against St. Mary's and John Burroughs on Thursday (6:30 p.m.) and Friday (4 p.m.) at .
That will leave just four games remaining for the 'Hounds before the start of district play, which begins the week of May 14-19 at in Ladue.
REMAINING CLAYTON GREYHOUNDS BASEBALL SCHEDULE
April 26 vs. St. Mary's 6:30 pm
April 27 vs. John Burroughs 4 pm
April 30 vs. Priory 6:15 pm
May 2 at University City 4:15 pm
May 8 at Windsor 4:15 pm
May 9 vs. St. Mary's at GCS Ballpark in Sauget, IL 7:45 pm