PITTSBURG — The St. Mary’s Colgan baseball team rolled through the Kansas Class 2-1A SMC Regional with a pair of blowout wins over Oswego in the semifinal and St. Paul in the championship game Thursday to punch its ticket to the state tournament.
“This senior group is just an outstanding group of kids,” Colgan head coach Mike Watt said. “Not only are they good kids, but they are a joy to coach. That always makes it even more special. I know that going to the state tournament, we are always going to get the best from them.”
The Panthers found little resistance in the semifinal matchup with Oswego, scoring eight times in the first inning, once in the second and six more times in the bottom of the third to end the game 15-0 after three frames.
Colgan got the bats started early once more in the regional championship with six runs in the first frame before sprinkling in runs in the second and third frames to build an 8-1 lead. The Panthers finished off the Indians with a three spot in the last of the fifth to end the game with an 11-1 win.
“I think it was important for us to get off to a good start offensively in both games and build a lead,” Watt said. “It allowed us to relax and play. When you have the lead, you can run and do different things you can’t do when you’re behind. It allowed us to play our kind of baseball.”
Colgan’s early offensive output was huge in terms of momentum in the regionals. The Panthers combined to outscore their opponents 14-0 in the first inning alone.
“We are trying to get continuity throughout the lineup,” Watt said. “We haven’t been there [during the season], but tonight we did a good job of that. I know Sawyer Esch broke through and had some big hits, Austin Lindsey in the eight hole had a couple big hits. I think we are getting there, and we just have to continue to get better for three more games.”
On the mound, Andrew Stewart earned the win in the first game against Oswego. He pitched all three innings, allowing no runs on three hits, two walks and eight strikeouts.
Chase VanBecelaere earned the win in the second game against St. Paul, pitching five innings and giving up one run on one hit, two walks and 12 strikeouts for SMC.
“Those two have been our workhorses all year long. They went out there and pitched well,” Watt said. “I was a little concerned because they had graduation last night and I know they were up late, but they both came out and just did a great job.”
Coming off three consecutive state titles, the experience these Panthers have in the postseason will be a big factor in this year’s state title run, according to Watt. Several members of the 2016 Colgan baseball team have started in multiple state tournament games, making it a smooth transition for the younger players who may be seeing their first extensive postseason action.
The regular season schedule the Panthers play as part of the Crawford-Neosho-Cherokee League as well as non-league games against tough opponents also have Coach Watt expecting his team to be calm and collected come state tournament play.
“There is no substitute for experience,” Watt said. “We’ve had big games all year long. I’ve felt like our Baxter Spring games, Frontenac games, Riverton games and even the Carl Junction game had state-tournament atmosphere. I feel like that has really helped us and improved on our experience.”
GAME 1 STATS
Chase VanBecelaere, Ryan Cedeno, Simon Higginbotham and Esch each had a pair of hits at the plate, with Cedeno and Higginbotham each recording a double.
Esch led the Panthers with three RBIs, while VanBecelaere had a pair himself. Cedeno, Higginbotham and Drew Beck all drove in runs for SMC in the win.
Garrett VanBecelaere, Chase VanBecelaere, Bryce Hutchins, Higginbotham and Esch all scored twice for Colgan.
GAME 2 STATS
Cedeno had a 3-for-3 game against St. Paul, tying for the team high in RBIs with two.
Chase VanBecelaere, Tyler Brynds and Higginbotham each had a pair of knocks, with Higginbotham driving in two and scoring twice.
Lindsey had a double, two RBIs and walked three times.
The Panthers wait to find out who they play in the first round of the Kansas Class 2-1A State Tournament, which takes place at the Great Bend Sports Complex on May 26 and 27.
“Usually what we’ll do over the next couple of days is relax and have some fun,” Watt said. “We don’t do a whole lot...and just enjoy being out here and being with each other. Monday, we trying to lock down and get back after it.”
Lucas Davis is the sports editor of the Pittsburg Morning Sun. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on twitter @LDsportswriter.