Playoff time is when seniors shine, and Evangel’s Miller Parker is no different.
Parker has guided the Eagles offensively in two playoff wins, combining for six RBIs while going 5-of-7 at the plate in the two games.
He’s taking his hot bat that leads a scary No. 2 seed Evangel (25-8-1) lineup into Monday’s third-round home game against Class 3A No. 10 St. Charles Catholic (24-9). With a win in the 5 p.m. game, the reigning Class 2A champion Eagles could secure their sixth state tournament trip in seven seasons – in which they’ve won titles in 2009, 2011 and 2013.
Parker, who battled through early-season struggles to rebuild his batting average to .353 with 31 runs scored, said the finality of a senior season has led to the surge.
“I think it’s the do-or-die mentality – I don’t want to see this season end early,” Parker said. “We’ve been competing and getting the job done.
“Going into the (St. Louis Catholic second-round game), we knew that we probably weren’t going to have that guy who was going to overpower us. So I came in and tried to stay short and see the ball. Props to our guys for getting on base and giving me the opportunity to score.”
After contributing an energy-building solo home run that turned the tide in a 4-3 first-round win against No. 31 Livonia, Parker went 3-for-4 with five RBIs and two runs scored against No. 18 St. Louis in an 11-0 five-inning win in the second round.
Parker had an RBI bunt, a two-RBI single and a two-RBI triple in Thursday’s win.
“Miller has been a guy that’s battled it all year,” said Evangel coach Tim Hulett. “He had a slow start but is finally starting to put it all together.
“We talk a lot about seniors – it’s (their) team now, it’s time for them to lead these guys. He’s just playing his game and playing within himself. Maybe early in the year he’s trying to put up a big year, but now he’s just relaxed and we’re not keeping track of numbers. We’re just playing to win.”
Fellow senior Chance Defriend has contributed his share this postseason, hitting 3-for-6 with two RBIs in two games. More importantly, he’s come up with crucial hits or at-bats that’s loomed large.
Junior Blake Buckman got the win in the second game, pitching four scoreless innings. He added a two-RBI triple at the plate, boosting his postseason total to three RBIs. All nine Eagles got at least one hit in the second-round win, and six produced at least one RBI.
“It was a complete effort,” Hulett said. “Offensively one through nine, we had competitive at bats in all five innings. It’s probably the best we’ve done all year long.”
A similar effort is likely needed Monday as St. Charles has rolled in the playoffs as well. The Comets topped No. 23 Thomas Jefferson 7-0 in the first round before traveling to No. 7 South Beauregard for a 14-4 win. They slugged 2A No. 3 Riverside earlier in the season, and the Comets lost two one-run games to 3A No. 1 John Curtis and a one-run loss to 5A No. 2 Brother Martin.
“We know their tough because we’ve played in their tournament before,” Hulett said. “They play a gritty style of baseball, and they’ve always played that way.”
“(The Livonia win) absolutely helps us … because we were in a fight for our lives. We were very focused to the start the St. Louis game, and I think we’ll be the same way for St. Charles.”
Hulett said Friday he didn’t know who would be the starting pitcher. Shane Miears and Austin Jordan, two key pitchers in the regular season, made relief appearances but not starts this postseason.
Austin McWhiney started the first game and Hunter Shaw would also be available.