Coming into the 2017 season, St. Albans baseball coach R.J. Johnsen is confident that the defending D.C. State Athletic Association champions can have another stellar year.

The skipper’s bravado centers around the Bulldogs’ pitching, which is led by Andrew Keane and Clark Klitenic.

“We are fortunate to be returning our best two pitchers from last year,” Johnsen said. “When they are at their best, they both attack the zone; they can mix up two or three pitches.”

On Thursday afternoon, Klitenic delivered a 3-2 win in a complete-game performance by shutting down a late rally by Bishop O’Connell.

“So far this season, we have been at our best when our top pitchers have been on the hill,” said Johnsen. “Clark is one of those guys for us. He is able to go out and attack hitters, and it sets the tone for us.”

Klitenic allowed just five hits while ringing up 10 strikeouts on 113 pitches. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs’ bats were led by John Dahlberg, who had two RBIs on just one hit. Sam Velleca, James Howe and Nick Beatrice each notched hits for the Bulldogs as well.

In the first inning, the teams exchanged runs as the Knights turned an early walk into a run when a steal put a runner in scoring position. Moments later, a stolen base and an O’Connell hit put the Knights ahead 1-0.

But the Bulldogs quickly evened the game at one in the bottom of the first when they took advantage of a walked batter to add a run of their own.

The game dissolved into a defensive struggle until the bottom of the third inning when Velleca hit a double, setting St. Albans up to score. Dahlberg brought him home with an RBI, and moments later Beatrice launched a sacrifice fly to score another runner for a 3-1 lead.

In the top of the fourth inning, O’Connell tried to build momentum, but Beatrice made a circus stop to force an out at second base and end the inning.

“We have a lot of young guys out there right now. Nick is on varsity for the first time, and that was a heck of a play,” said Johnsen. “We just asked him to play solid defense, and he came through and made a very above-average play and picked us up in a big spot.”

St. Albans’ Clark Klitenic pitched a complete game in Thursday’s win. Brian Kapur/The Current

In the top of the seventh, the Knights broke through for a run while taking a pair of outs, whittling the lead down to 3-2. But Klitenic forced the next batter out to end the game.

The win pushed the Bulldogs’ record to 2-3. Despite the slow start to the season, Johnsen believes his captains — Velleca, Keane and Drew Posner — will lead the way to a strong season.

“They have been great,” said Johnsen. “They’re just steady and do everything that we ask and help the other guys stay focused.”

The tri-captains are leading a team that has talent, and despite inexperience in multiple positions — some starters are seeing varsity action this year for the first time — expectations remain high for Johnsen and the Bulldogs.

“We have some young guys in the lineup, but our goals and aspirations aren’t any different. Our goal every year is to win the IAC and the D.C. state championship,” Johnsen said. “Baseball starts with pitching, and our top two guys are equal to or better than anyone else’s top two in the area.”