Big target, big bat: First baseman Michael Smith plays a key role for Class 4A semifinalist St. Michael _lowres

Advocate staff photo by APRIL BUFFINGTON -- St. Michael first baseman Michael Smith

When Michael Smith first went out for the baseball team at St. Michael the Archangel, he didn’t get much of a choice in what position he would play.

At 6-foot-5, he was going to play first base, whether he liked it or not.

Fortunately, Smith hasn’t had many complaints about the position being thrust on him. It has worked out well enough for him and the Warriors so far.

Smith’s height makes for a massive target for his fellow infielders, a crucial weapon for St. Michael over his past two years as a starter.

“His catch radius is unbelievable,” coach Johnny Bernhard said. “Standing at third base, if you’re throwing it across, with his ability to reach and stretch and get those long limbs in the direction of the ball, he really has an enormous catch radius. I think our infielders are a little spoiled throwing to him, because not every high school first baseman has that kind of range.”

Where Smith has really shined this season is his performance at the plate.

Bernhard said Smith’s mechanics were “raw” when he got to the program, but he has been able to put it together over the past two years and transform into a player the Warriors can build their lineup around.

Smith knows a lot of the pitchers he faces may be anxious to throw to him with such an extended strike zone, but that feeling usually dissipates quickly once they see the power he brings to the plate.

As the Warriors’ No. 3 hitter, Smith leads the team with 46 RBIs and eight home runs to go with a .419 batting average.

“I’ve been walked a lot more this year than I was last year,” he said. “I feel like I have a little bit more of that fear factor now after what I’ve done this year and last year. ... I’m swinging at good pitches (this year) and not thinking too much when I get up to bat. It’s just see ball, hit ball.”

Smith is about to make his second consecutive trip to the LHSAA state baseball tournament. No. 2 seed St. Michael will face No. 3 West Ouachita in the Class 4A semifinals, set for 4 p.m. Thursday in Sulphur.

St. Michael lost in the semifinals the past two years to St. Thomas More, but Smith is hoping to end his final season with the Warriors on a better note.

“I want to finish it up right. I want to end it with a bang,” he said. “We’re all focused in right now. It’s kind of cool because the playoffs have been a whole different kind of atmosphere. It doesn’t feel like its coming to an end as quickly as it is. It feels like it’s forever, but it’s really only a few more days left with my friends.”

Smith’s baseball career won’t end this weekend no matter how the Warriors fare in Sulphur. He didn’t want to go too far from home next year, which made Baton Rouge Community College the perfect fit.

“It’s a good place for me to go,” he said. “I know a few people that I used to play with and they’re going to BRCC with me, so it’s kind of a little reunion. I’m really pumped. It’s close enough to home so my parents can see me play.”