Though the on-field celebration was subdued, the excitement was palpable as the Natural Baseball Academy shut out the BJ Raiders to win the Ban Johnson League title on Friday night.
Olathe Northwest graduate Alex Knight allowed just six base runners on the way to a 6-0 shutout at Mid-America Sports Complex in Shawnee. He finished with one hit, two walks and a fielder’s choice with six strikeouts and 98 pitches in seven innings. He had 15 first pitch strikes.
“My fastball felt good, and wherever they hit it, I had guys to back me up,” Knight said. “I was happy they were there for me.”
Knight got off to a hot start using just five pitches to retire the side in the first inning. Natural backed him up with two runs in the bottom of the inning to take an early lead.
“It felt good knowing we had the lead because I could go out there and keep pitching,” Knight said. “Even if I make a mistake I know that my teammates would back me up for sure. It felt good that they got me a lead nice and early.”
They added another in the second off an RBI single from leadoff hitter Matt Elliott, who was tabbed as the Ban Johnson League championship MVP. He went nine-for-12 across four games in the postseason and finished the night two-for-four.
By then, the Natural had forced 57 pitches from the BJ Raiders starter.
Natural tacked on three more runs in the third inning with an RBI double by Alex Cargin and a two-run homer by Elliott to put the game out of reach and send the Raiders’ starter to the bench. Elliott, an Olathe South graduate, is headed to Central Missouri in the fall.
“To be honest I had two strikes and was just trying to make contact,” Elliott said. “It’s one of those things where you don’t even feel like you did it. It felt amazing.”
Natural won the best-of-five championship series three games to one. Natural lost game one Tuesday 9-6 but swept a doubleheader Thursday 3-1 and 7-3 before winning Friday night.
“We had a great postseason and came out ready to play,” Natural manager Brian Knippelmeyer said. “Our batting was spectacular, our pitching came through and it was just a great effort as a team. I couldn’t have asked for a greater group of guys this summer.”