After a long bus ride home from the St. Louis suburbs on Sunday night, Oak Grove High School baseball coach Kirk Sears walked into his house, greeted his family and then sat down at the computer.
By SAM McDOWELL and TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
Not even a day removed from Oak Grove's Class 2 state championship game,, he was already eager to watch the tape from a fan's perspective. Even though the Panthers were on the losing end of a 2-1 outcome Sunday against Westminster Christian, Sears viewed the game as quality entertainment.
“If you didn't have a dog in the fight, you would have loved watching both teams play that day,” Sears said. “Both teams played phenomenal. Neither team deserved to lose that game.”
Except Oak Grove ultimately did lose it — thanks to a two-run home run from shortstop Shane Benes, the son of former MLB pitcher Andy Benes.
Sears called it the only mistake in a intensely-competitive game otherwise filled with highlight-reel defensive plays from third baseman Tanner Johnson and center fielder Levin Harmon, along with quality pitching from starter Cole Doherty and reliever Conner Matson. The two needed only 70 pitches to work their way through seven innings. They walked none.
And that formula — pitching and defense — was typical for the Panthers, who finished the season 22-8. Oak Grove did not make an error in either game at the Class 2 state tournament.
“They did not make one defensive mistake in two games on the biggest possible stage,” Sears said. “I'd like to know how many high school kids can say that.”
Oak Grove will graduate six seniors from the state tournament team — all of whom have been in the program for a full four seasons.
“That's what's bittersweet about it all,” Sears said. “The guys played great baseball, and I loved to be around it. But you don't know how many opportunities you're going to get.”
Four years ago, a group of five freshmen set out on a mission with the O’Hara’s girls soccer team.
“These girls, from when they first set foot on the field as freshman, have always had the goal of reaching the state tournament,” Celtics coach Mary Haggerty said.
That dream was realized last weekend as O’Hara capped a 19-4-0 season with a 5-2 victory Saturday against Springfield Catholic in the Missouri Class 1 third-place game at Blue Springs South.
Senior forward Sydney White led the way two goals — both coming in the first 10 minutes — and an assist. She finished the season with 50 goals and scored 91 in her last two years.
“It really was a fun way to end my career,” said White, who signed with William Jewell. “For the past two years, I’ve been able to play with my sister (Haley, a sophomore midfielder) and that was great. I was so happy to finish my career with her. It means a lot that I got to play with her.”
Of course, going out with a win alongside a group of girls who have become like sisters was pretty special too.
Senior defender Maddie Champion had an assist (to her sophomore sister, MacKenzie), while fellow senior defenders Lindsay Beachner and Lucia Crosetti also featured prominently along with senior midfielder Mary Pat Brage.
“We all wanted to end the season with a W,” senior forward Bridget Wages said. “It was nice to end my senior season and my high school career on a positive note.”
Wages — a transfer from Ray-Pec, who scored 32 goals after sitting out her junior season and playing the first two years with the Panthers — wasn’t there from the beginning, but she was an integral part in the Celtics’ run to third place.
She matched White’s two goals with an assist against Springfield Catholic.
“Everyone is so close-knit and every practice was so much fun,” Wages said. “Just the experience of being here at state was awesome. I’ll never forget this group.”
St. Teresa's soccer
St. Teresa's senior soccer player Peepers Gray once called it a curse the way the team was unable to move on from district play.
The Stars broke the curse in 2013 — and a whole lot more. They reached the Class 3 state tournament for the first time in five seasons, though they were left disappointed with a 2-1 loss to Eureka in the title match Saturday.
“We accomplished a lot,” Gray said. “It's been a cruse getting out of districts, but this team was able to get out of it. We're proud of what we did, and I don't think a loss changes that or anything.”
The end has come for Gray and her senior teammates, but the future remains bright for a St. Teresa's team that features four underclassmen who have already committed to play Division I soccer.
That group next year will be led by senior midfielder Savannah Trujillo, an early commit to Missouri, and forward Dorian Bailey, an early commit to North Carolina who is ranked among the top-10 recruits in the nation for the 2015 graduating class.