GREAT BEND — It was Déjá Vú for the St. Mary’s Colgan baseball team, as the Panthers defeated Medicine Lodge for the second year in a row to win the Kansas Class 2-1A State Baseball Title at the Great Bend Sports Complex.
“It’s just a great feeling of satisfaction because of all the hard work that we’ve put towards this season,” Colgan head coach Mike Watt said. “After last year, the kids knew we had a lot of returning players and had a good opportunity for this. They didn’t sit back and think it was just going to happen. They worked for it, and I am really proud of them.”
The Indians opened the top of the first with a run, but SMC’s bats came out white hot, scoring eight times in the bottom half of the inning to take a strangle hold on the game right out of the gates. Medicine Lodge showed life in the third inning after crossing the plate twice to cut the lead to six, but Colgan snuffed out any comeback with a three spot in the fourth before a run in the bottom of the sixth ended the game on run rule, 13-3.
“When you can score that quick, it takes a lot of the pressure off and lets you relax and be more at ease with what you do,” Watt said. “You can try to steal bases and if you get thrown out, it’s no big deal. When we can be more aggressive and run, that’s our game.”
This was the fourth straight season the Panthers have won a state title in baseball, and the 20th such title in SMC history. Coach Watt — who now has 16 state titles to his name — credits that success to the tradition Colgan has established over the years.
“If you look around, you see these second and third graders running around. I am just blessed to work here and have that kind of tradition where kids are growing up wanting to be a part of it,” Watt said. “Hopefully, I can make better in some ways and just keep it going.”
The win over Medicine Lodge sends several seniors out on high note, as Colgan baseball graduates Ryan Cedeno, Andrew Stewart, Chase VanBecelaere, Connor O'Brien, Cooper Hutchins and Sawyer Esch.
The group of seniors have been a part of four state title teams, leaving behind quite a legacy for the younger players in the program.
“Not only are these seniors really good baseball players, but they’re great young men. That’s all you can really ask for,” Watt said. “They showed great leadership and how to handle themselves in certain situations to the younger kids. We work real hard on the mental side of it, and our seniors understands what it takes.”
The Panthers scored 13 runs on 16 hits, with five players garnering multi-hit games. Seven of those hits came in the first inning to get SMC off to a fast start offensively, chasing Medicine Lodge starting pitcher Drew Honas from the game after 1/3 of an inning.
While the offense for Colgan was busy raking, Tyler Brynds and Stewart provided a solid combination on the bump.
Brynds started the game on the mound and went three innings, allowing three runs, two earned, on five hits, one walk and a strikeout.
Stewart came on in relief in the fourth inning and dominated in his final time on the mound for the Panthers. He shut the door on the Indians, allowing no runs on not hits and one strikeout in three innings of work.
“I had a lot of confidence in Tyler, and what I was really wanted out of him was to get me to the fourth — which he did,” Watt said. “I felt comfortable with throwing Andrew a couple of innings, and Chase a couple of innings if I needed him. I knew if we could get the lead and bring those guys in, things would probably be in our favor because those guys have pitched tremendous in this state tournament.”
Garrett Burden pitched the remaining five innings in relief for the Indians, allowing five runs on nine hits, with two walks and two strikeouts.
The tone-setting, eight-run first inning by the Panthers started with Garrett VanBecelaere doubling to left field on the second pitch of the game.
Chase Vanbecelaere followed with a single top left field, with the throw back to the infield from the Indians taking so long to develop, it allowed Garrett VanBecelaere to score and tie the game.
After a Cedeno four-pitch walk and Brynds loading the bases with a bunt for a hit, Simon Higginbotham — who was coming of a six-RBI game Friday evening against Troy — singled to shallow center field to drive in a run and give SMC a 2-1 lead.
Back-to-back two-run singles from Drew Beck and Sawyer Esch extended Colgan’s lead to five.
The final run of the inning came on Garrett VanBecelaere’s second hit of the inning, an RBI single to left field.
Medicine Lodge cut the Panthers’ advantage to 9-3 with a two-run third inning, but the Panthers rebounded shortly after.
A two-run single from Esch and a Garrett VanBecelaere RBI singled made the score 12-3, essentially putting the game out of reach and killing the Indians’ momentum.
“I felt like in the second and third inning, once we got the big lead, we did get a little bit flat, but then Sawyer Esch came up with the big hit to push us up a couple more runs,” Watt said. “You’ve got to give Medicine Lodge a lot of credit — they battled and competed. It was just a good job on our kids’ part to respond.”
The run rule came in effect in the bottom of the sixth when Dominic Piccini tripled to right field, scoring Beck to push the lead to 10 and end the game.
Colgan at the Plate
Garrett VanBecelaere went 3 for 4 with two RBIs and a run scored.
Higginbotham had three more hits against the Indians, scoring twice and driving in one.
Beck had a 2-for-2 game, scoring three times and driving in a pair.
Cedeno went 2 for 3 with a run scored, while Esch went 2 for 3 with a team-high four RBIs and two runs scored.
Lucas Davis is the sports editor of the Pittsburg Morning Sun. E-mail him at email@example.com and follow him on twitter @LDsportswriter.