Season of dreams concludes for improbable baseball contender New Covenant

Season of dreams concludes for improbable baseball contender New Covenant

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Season of dreams concludes for improbable baseball contender New Covenant

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New Covenant Academy baseball players react in the dugout at the end of the 2016 Class 1 state championship game, which ended with Bell City beating New Covenant 7-2 for the title at CarShield Field in O'Fallon.

New Covenant Academy baseball players react in the dugout at the end of the 2016 Class 1 state championship game, which ended with Bell City beating New Covenant 7-2 for the title at CarShield Field in O’Fallon.

A season of dreams met a sad ending Wednesday for New Covenant Academy’s baseball team.

New Covenant Academy baseball players react at the end of the 2016 Class 1 state championship game, a 7-2 loss to Bell City in a game played Wednesday, June 1, at CarShield Field in O'Fallon.

New Covenant Academy baseball players react at the end of the 2016 Class 1 state championship game, a 7-2 loss to Bell City in a game played Wednesday, June 1, at CarShield Field in O’Fallon.

The Warriors (24-5) fell 7-2 in the Class 1 state championship game to Bell City, now back-to-back state champions. New Covenant played for the title in just its second season fielding a baseball program.

Playing in a minor league stadium seemed a far cry for a New Covenant team that had no home field of its own just a season ago and held practices in a field behind Carnahan-White Fence Company. The Warriors have since been on what coach John Hartley called “a great ride.”

“We closed our eyes and all of our dreams came true, short of one. And you know what? That’s okay,” Hartley said.

Bell City (24-3) pitcher Cole Nichols threw a complete seven-inning game for the win. He allowed two earned runs on eight hits, struck out five batters and walked three. He finishes the season with a 7-0 record.

New Covenant got two hits and two RBI from senior first baseman Josh Isbell, who played his final high school game. He said Nichols’ stuff was tough to track.

“(Nichols) threw a heck of a game and he also hit really good too. We just didn’t get key hits when we needed them,” Isbell said.

Shortstop Austin Hicks led the Cubs with 3 runs batted in, which all came on a double with the bases loaded in the fourth inning that added three insurance runs.

Isbell and Hartley agreed that the outcome of a game in which both teams had eight hits came down to Bell City gaining timely hits and New Covenant stranding runners.

“We had plenty of baserunners and plenty of opportunities, we just have to execute more,” Isbell said. “We just have to execute more, but nothing against teammates. We had an amazing season.”

Isbell admitted to being nervous before the title game on New Covenant’s first ever playoff trip beyond its district tournament. The Cubs, however, were prepared having won the championship in 2015.

Hartley has now coached in two state championship games in a career that spans more than 25 years. Hartley coached the Willard Tigers to a second place finish in Class 3 in 2003.

“We worked together as a team. For a second year program, we knew Coach Hartley has been here before and he’s a great coach. Trust in your coach, God and your teammates and we’ll get it done,” Isbell said.

Hartley tipped his cap to the Cubs and tried to keep his message to his team positive following the loss.

“It was a magical spring and a magical season that we just endured and experienced, and got beat by a better team. I can see why they’re the defending champs, what an outstanding group Bell City has,” Hartley said.

The Cubs joined the Warriors around the pitcher’s mound after the game for some handshakes, congratulatory hugs and a prayer.

“We try to glorify God in all we do,” Isbell said. “We pray when we win, we pray when we lose too. I just think that we all worked together and knit well together as a team, and that ended in second place.”

The Warriors played the title game with heavy hearts and without junior Ben Cannefax, who left the team in O’Fallon to join his family at his mother’s funeral. She passed away earlier this week after a battle with cancer. New Covenant players wore the initials “R.S.” on the sides of their caps in a show of support for Cannefax and his family.

“It’s no doubt a tough day for their family, and (Cannefax) knows we’re right there behind him in spirit and in prayer,” Hartley said.

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Season of dreams concludes for improbable baseball contender New Covenant
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