Diamond Defenders – baseball team earns state championship

For the second year in a row, the Sabetha Bluejay baseball team has been crowned the Class 3A State Baseball Champions. The Jays entered the 2019 Class 3A State Baseball Tournament with an 18-3 record and a No. 3 seeding. The Jays repeated as champions by sweeping through the rain delayed tournament with three victories — two of those over the No. 1 and 2 seeds.

The Jays met the Baxter Springs Lions in the opening round of the tournament on Thursday, May 23, and came away with a hard-fought 6-5 victory.

The Jays then matched up against the Minneapolis Lions who entered the tournament with a 20-3 record and the No. 2 seed. The Jays and the Lions began their game on Friday, May 24, but the rain and lightning delayed the contest until Monday, May 27, when the game picked up where it left off on Friday.

The Jays fell behind the Lions 3-0 in the third inning but bounced back with six runs in the top of the fourth and never trailed again. They defeated the Lions 9-5 to move into the championship game.

In the championship game, the Jays met the Mustangs from Rock Creek, who were the number one seed with a 22-3 record. Despite playing back-to-back games on the same day, the Jays overcame the odds and dominated the Mustangs 10-4 to earn their second straight state title.

Head Coach Aaron Frey said he is proud of the way the team persevered throughout the tournament.

“I couldn’t be prouder of our guys, and their preparation and perseverance,” he said. “I think we got the toughest draw round one with Baxter Springs. As happened in the game with Minneapolis, Baxter put up two in an inning, and our guys answered in our next at bat. I can’t say enough about how our guys not only answered when a team scored on us, but even went beyond.”

Despite weather delays, Frey said, the team responded well.

“As far as the weather delays go, I think it was much tougher for the coaches than the players,” he said. “We try as coaches to not make a big deal about things like that, and our players buy into it. We can only control what we can control and the weather is not one of those things. Our guys made the most of the rest and practice time that we could while we were delayed.”

Opening Round

The Jays met the Baxter Springs Lions in the opening round of the tournament on Thursday, May 23. The Lions came into the tournament with a 17-5 record.

The Lions jumped out quickly in the game scoring two runs off of Jay starter junior Braden Argabright. The Jays bounced right back in the bottom of the first as lead-off hitter senior Joe Gruber belted a double to get the Jay offense up and running.

The Jays scored two runs to tie the game in the bottom of the first, and then came right back with three runs in the bottom of the second inning with the big momentum swinging play being a steal of home by Gruber.

After the Lions closed within 5-4 in the top of the fifth, Gruber once again came up big for the Jays with a clutch RBI single to extend the lead to 6-4. The Lions managed one more run in the sixth, but Argabright closed out the game for the Jays to preserve the 6-5 victory.

Argabright pitched seven innings for the Jays — giving up five runs on eight hits while striking out eight batters. Gruber led the Jays with three hits and two RBIs.

The win over the Lions set up the clash with another team of Lions — this one from Minneapolis, who had a 20-3 record and were the No. 2 seed in the tournament.

Semi-Final

The game began on Friday, May 24, but was delayed shortly after the start because of a continual rain and lightning storm. When play was finally resumed on Monday, May 27, the Jays fell behind the Lions 3-0 after three innings.

In the top of the fourth, the Jays exploded for six runs on six hits and never trailed again in the contest.

Freshman Jalen Worthley was on the mound for the Jays and, after giving up three runs in the third, held the Lions to just two runs over the next three innings. Worthley ended up pitching six innings — giving up five runs on six hits with six strikeouts and four walks.

Gruber came on in relief in the seventh and gave up three hits and was able to get a double play from second baseman Ryan Stapleton to end the game and preserve the 9-5 win.

The Jay offense was led by Gruber once again as he had three hits, while junior Gabe Garber and senior Kamden Brownlee each had two hits and two RBIs apiece. Brownlee’s two-RBI double in the top of the fourth got the Jay scoring started, and they never looked back.

The win propelled the Jays into the championship game against the Rock Creek Mustangs, who had a 22-3 record and a No. 1 seed.

Championship

The Jays continued where they left off in the semi-final game by jumping out to a quick 3-0 lead after one inning over the favored Mustangs. Argabright and Brownlee each had a hit and an RBI to jump start the Jay offense.

Argabright knocked in another run in the second with a single, as the Jays put up a pair of runs in the inning to jump out to a commanding 5-0 lead, and the Jays never looked back. The Jay hitting attack pounded out 13 hits, with Argabright picking up four hits with a pair of RBIs.

Sophomore catcher Drew Schmelzle, junior first baseman Jake Longabaugh, senior second baseman Ryan Stapleton, and senior left fielder Kamden Brownlee each had a pair of hits in the final game, with Schmelzle and Longabaugh each knocking in a pair of runs. Stapleton and Brownlee each knocked in one run. The Jays scored three runs in the fourth and added two more in the fifth to close out the scoring for the Jays.

Gruber, who came on in relief in the semi-final game, was on the mound for the Jays and pitched five innings of four-hit baseball, giving up just two runs with three strike outs and one walk.

Garber came on in relief for the final two innings and gave up a pair of runs on no hits with four strikeouts and four walks. Garber struck out the final batter for the final out to clinch the 2019 Class 3A State Baseball Tournament and give the Sabetha Bluejays back-to-back state championships.

After winning their second consecutive State Championship, Frey said what the team has accomplished wasn’t an easy feat.

“It’s amazing to win two in a row,” he said. “I told the team after the championship that I don’t want you to ever think this is easy! What they have been able to do is unbelievably hard to accomplish. They have competed and won at the highest level that they can in the state of Kansas, and that is something that they need to take time and appreciate and enjoy!

As for the baseball program, Frey said, the expectations have been set high from the past two years.

“These wins for the program are huge,” he said. “These last two teams have set the expectations as high as they can set them. Players coming into the program know what is expected. Number one, we always put the team first. I think the attitude and culture of ‘We greater than Me’ is the most important legacy that these teams have set. Serving others before yourself is the biggest legacy that they can leave.”

Throughout the season, Frey said, there has been major improvements for the players.

“The lineup that we ended with was not the same one that we started with in March,” he said. “They were the same players, but the improvement was unbelievable. These guys worked from start to finish and bought into the process and finished with another championship, and I couldn’t be happier for them. We talked to the team all year about wanting to build and be playing our best baseball at the end of the year, and that is exactly what we did.”

Tim Kellenberger109 Posts

Tim Kellenberger serves as Owner, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief for The Sabetha Herald since 2004. He specializes in sports reporting and column writing, as well as sports photography. Tim is a Grace University graduate with a dual degree in agricultural economics and human resource management. He lives in rural Sabetha with his wife and has four grown children and two grandchildren.

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