With the top two finishers in Kansas Class 5A and the newly-crowned Class 6A champion, the Eastern Kansas League proved for the third straight season why it is one of the toughest baseball leagues in the state.
St. Thomas Aquinas shut out Blue Valley Southwest to win the Class 5A title, and Blue Valley upended rival and defending champion Blue Valley West in the semifinals before defeating Maize for the Class 6A championship last weekend. Blue Valley becomes the third consecutive school in the district to take home the 6A title, joining Blue Valley West in 2013 and Blue Valley North in 2012.
“It seems like every time that we play an EKL school, there’s some top-quality pitcher out there, and then you throw on top of that, all of the teams can swing and field, so there are no loopholes,” Aquinas coach Lorne Park said. “When you’re playing in the EKL, it’s a tough game.”
Parks’ Saints, the regular-season EKL champions, defeated Shawnee Heights and Topeka Seaman to advance to the final. They held the Timberwolves to only three hits in their 6-0 victory Friday with senior Alex Van Pelt pitching at Tointon Family Stadium in Manhattan. It was his second victory of the season against Blue Valley Southwest.
The Saints finished with a 21-4 record and won their first state title since 2007.
“We had a good regular season and won the EKL, And to carry that over and capitalize on a break, the kids were showing a lot of effort,” Parks said. “In that first game, we got better, and by the second game we were playing really well.”
Blue Valley took a different road. Early in the season when Blue Valley had a 5-6 record, a state tournament berth looked improbable.
However, the Tigers lost only one of their next 14 games to roll to their seventh straight state tournament appearance and win the school's fourth title. They finished with an 18-7 record.
“In the losses that we had, I never really thought other teams were beating us, but we were beating ourselves,” Tigers coach Tony Scardino said. “It would be one silly inning, a costly base running mistake or a costly defensive mistake, and you’re on the other end of it. I think we really stressed eliminating those mistakes as we progressed through the season.”
Sixth-seeded Blue Valley defeated Blue Valley West 3-2 in the quarterfinals after splitting the regular-season series. The Tigers then defeated Wichita Northwest 4-1 in the semifinals and topped Maize 9-3 in the championship game at Hoglund Ballpark in Lawrence.
“We really started to put it together, and the kids played with a tremendous amount of poise and confidence getting toward regionals and into the state tournament,” Scardino said.
The De Soto baseball team brought home the 913 area’s third state title after winning the Class 4A Division 1 tournament. De Soto used a seven-run fifth inning to defeat Paola 10-5 at Dean Evans Stadium in Salina. The Wildcats finished with a 20-4 record.
“They were united on winning a state championship because we were there the year before with a really good team and a lot of the same type of attitudes but didn’t get it done,” De Soto coach Joel Thaemert said. “This year the goal was the same thing and we got it done. I am really proud.”