Westminster Christian, a private school in St. Louis, will play for its third straight state championship today in O’Fallon.
But those around the Rogersville baseball team believe the real state championship — a matchup of the state’s two best Class 4 teams — happened in Saturday’s semifinal.
Westminster (32-3) topped Rogersville 4-1 at T.R. Hughes Ballpark in a game that was broken up into two days, as incoming tornadoes to the St. Louis suburbs halted play early Friday evening.
The loss snapped a 21-game winning streak for Rogersville (24-4), and forced the Wildcats into today’s 10 a.m. third-place game against Boonville.
“In our minds, that was the championship game. And we have to come out (today) and make a statement,” said Rogersville sophomore Jacob Schlesener, who had two hits. “It’s hard to say what would’ve happened (without the delay). We definitely feel like we were pumped (Friday) and we had them on the ropes for awhile.”
The teams were tied 1-1 in the third inning before the delay, and Rogersville had four baserunners in two innings.
Rogersville continued to hit off relief pitcher Brennan Hehner on Saturday, reaching base in every inning, but first-year coach Casey Ledl’s team couldn’t deliver the big hit.
“This weekend, it seems like we hit several balls hard but right into the wind that hung up, and just didn’t go our way,” Ledl said. “That was two very, very good teams playing today. They just were a couple pitches better than we were.”
Rogersville senior Justin King returned to the mound Saturday, but was touched up for two runs in the fourth inning. After allowing the leadoff runner on in the fifth, sophomore Tad Mitchell came on in relief.
His inherited runner scored, but Mitchell did not allow an earned run in three innings of work.
“He’s got the capability a year or two from now to be very good,” Ledl said. He left a couple balls up today, but that’s going to happen to a sophomore, he’s amped up. What I love about Tad is he’s never afraid of that situation.”
Ledl could be speaking for his whole sophomore class: Starters Mitchell, Schlesener, catcher Connor Pomering and Garrett Jernigan were integral parts of the team.
“We had a lot to prove,” Schlesener said. “A lot of people don’t think four sophomores can make a difference, but I feel like we held our own. And I think we made a big contribution to us getting here.”
The sophomores and a freshman had five of Rogersville’s six hits, but junior Bailey Jenkins’ double to lead off the first inning was the only one resulting in a run.
Rogersville will lose Bradley-bound outfielder Evan Gruener, shortstop Dayton Karr, and staff aces King and Justus Boever next year.
“They really showed us how to play right, and how to play hard-nosed,” Schlesener said of the seniors. “They really just carried our team.”
Westminster will play in today’s 1 p.m. Class 4 final against Oak Grove.
“I’ve told many people that I’d like to play a 162-game schedule with my 21 guys,” Westminster coach Rich Van Gilst said. “We can play every day of the week because we have five solid starters and four solid relievers.
“We’ve got guys on our bench that could hit for most teams.”
Ledl said his team needed to be mature about accepting Saturday’s loss and prove Rogersville’s belief that the state’s best went at it on Saturday.
“We can take a couple hours and be disappointed and feel bad about it,” the coach said. “But at the same time, we came up here to play two games and get two wins. Now, the challenge in front of us is to try and get one.”
Van Gilst did not say if Saturday’s game had the state’s two best Class 4 teams, but unprompted after a post-game interview with the News-Leader, Van Gilst stopped and said of Rogersville, “That’s a real good team.”