The road to the Missouri state baseball championships is never easy.
A year ago Francis Howell and Westminster almost didn't make it out of districts — weeks before winning state titles at Meador Park in Springfield.
The Class 4 champ, Howell had to pull out a pair of 5-4 victories in the district tournament to advance. Westminster, which won its first state title in Class 3, needed a 3-2 win against Priory in the semifinals and a 5-3 victory against upset-minded MICDS in the district final to move on.
“You need luck,” said Howell coach Tony Perkins, who also led the Vikings to a state championship in 2003.
Of course having a good team — strong pitching staff, lineup and defense — certainly improves your chances. But anything can happen in baseball, and one day or a critical error can make the difference in advancing or packing away the equipment and uniforms for next season.
“Any high school baseball team can come in and be off for one day,” Eureka coach Jim Daffron said. “If you’re off for one day, in districts, you can go home.”
Win or go home.
“There’s no easy road,” Lafayette coach Scott DeNoyer said. “You’re gonna have one game that is gonna be a nail-biter, and you may need some late-inning heroics. But I think that just all plays right into that great championship story that we’re all striving for.”
The Class 4 District 4 tournament, which will have its semifinals and championship Monday and Tuesday at Ballwin Athletic Association, is annually one of the toughest around. This spring is no exception.
The first four seeds — Parkway South (20-7), Lafayette (20-8), Eureka (19-6) and Pacific (17-3) — have a composite record of 76-24.
“We have four or five teams that I think can definitely have a great chance of going to state,” Daffron said. “I think it comes down to who comes up with the hot hand.”
Daffron would know. Last spring, his Eureka team won the district as a No. 5 seed. After narrowly beating fourth-seeded Marquette in 10 innings in the first round, the Wildcats thumped top seed Parkway South 16-1 in the semifinals and knocked off No. 2 seed Lafayette 10-0 in the title game.
“It’s still anybody’s game regardless of what your seed is in this district,” said DeNoyer, the Lafayette coach. “It just comes down to a matter of playing your best ball at the right time. I know last year (Eureka) was on a roll and they were hot. … We just kind of hope and try to prepare to peak at the right time. I know anybody that does get out of our district should be pretty proud of the fact that they should have some momentum behind them.”
If District 4 isn’t the most difficult in Class 4, you wouldn’t have a tough time making a strong case for District 8 at Fort Zumwalt South.
That district, which concludes with the title game at 4 p.m. Wednesday, features seven teams with winning records: No. 1 seed Francis Howell Central (21-4), No. 2 Francis Howell (20-8), No. 3 Fort Zumwalt West (18-10), No. 4 Fort Zumwalt South (14-11), No. 5 Fort Zumwalt East (17-10), No. 6 Fort Zumwalt North (15-11) and No. 7 St. Dominic (13-7).
“It’s crazy,” Howell’s Perkins said. “In every sport there’s always that district that is loaded, and it’s ours. Everybody is good. Even St. Dominic, the No. 7 seed who we’re playing, they’ve got this (Jacob) Wehde kid, and he’s awful good. We only beat them 5-4 last year in the first round of districts, and he’s back. He’s very capable of beating us the first game out. That’s just the kind of district it is. St. Charles West is the only one of the eight teams that is not .500. It’s murderer’s row.”
Howell Central is the No. 1 team in the STLhighschoolsports.com large-schools rankings. Howell is ranked seventh.
CAN WESTMINSTER REPEAT?
The No. 1 team in the small-schools rankings, Westminster has won six consecutive district titles and captured the school’s first state championship last spring.
The Wildcats (22-3) have been the best team in the area — regardless of class — this season. A 9-3 win against John Burroughs on Wednesday was the team’s 19th consecutive victory.
Westminster is averaging nine runs per game with an impressive lineup that starts with senior center fielder Tate Matheny, who is among the area leaders in batting average, home runs and RBI. The pitching staff is paced by junior lefthander Ben Lovell (7-0, 0.52), junior lefty Davis Vanderslice (5-0, 1.54) and junior righthander Ben Mitchell (4-1, 1.88).
SLUH LOOKS TO CONTINUE STREAK
St. Louis University High has won its district for the past 21 seasons. But is this the year that impressive streak comes to an end?
The Junior Billikens fell to 15-9 with an 11-2 loss against visiting Vianney on Wednesday, which marked the team’s fourth consecutive defeat.
The No. 1 seed in the district, SLUH has split games against second-seeded Ladue (17-7).
CBC IS A TEAM TO WATCH
CBC won a state championship two years ago, and coach Mason Horne may have another group ready to make a playoff run.
The Cadets, who rely on a strong group of juniors, defeated De Smet 7-4 on Wednesday to capture their second Metro Catholic Conference championship in three seasons. CBC is the No. 1 seed in Class 4 District 7.
“With the one seed, that’s what you’re playing for all year,” Horne said. “But we know De Smet is a very good team. We know that Howell North can be extremely dangerous and can put up a ton of runs at will. We know that Parkway North is kind of a sleeper in all of this, with Pattonville. Not to discredit Parkway Central or St. Charles, but I think it’s wide open.
“I think whoever goes in there and does not play the game is going to take it on the chin. I’ve said it all year: if we can survive our district, I like our chances, because I think we have the pitching to make some noise. But I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
CBC’s pitching staff is led by three good starters in junior righthanders Dan Herrmann (5-2, 2.76) and Robert Plohr (4-1, 0.20) and senior righty Paul Sullivan (4-1, 1.18).