Though the on-the-field celebration was subdued, the excitement was palpable as the Natural Baseball Academy shut out the BJ Raiders to win the Ban Johnson Baseball League championship Friday night in Shawnee.
Olathe Northwest High School graduate Alex Knight allowed just six base runners on the way to a 6-0 shutout at Mid-America Sports Complex. He finished with one hit, two walks, a fielder’s choice, six strikeouts and 98 pitches in seven innings. He also 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. He used just five pitches to retire the side in the first inning. Natural Baseball Academy backed him up with two runs in the bottom of the inning and he returned to the mound with a lead.
“It felt good knowing we had the lead because I could go out there and keep pitching,” Knight said. “Even if I made 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.”
Natural Baseball Academy added another in the second inning off an RBI single from leadoff hitter Matt Elliott, who was selected the Ban Johnson League championship series most valuable player. Elliott went nine-for-12 across four games in the postseason and finished two-for-four on Friday night.
Natural Baseball Academy tacked on three more runs in the third inning, highlighted by an RBI double by Alex Cargin and a two-run homer by Elliott to put the game out of reach and sent the BJ Raiders’ starting pitcher to the bench. Elliott, an Olathe South High School graduate, is headed to play baseball at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg.
“To be honest, I had two strikes and was just trying to make contact,” Elliott said of his home run. “It’s one of those things where you don’t even feel like you did it. It felt amazing.”
Natural Baseball Academy won the best-of-five championship series three games to one. Natural lost game one 9-6 on July 28, then swept a doubleheader last Thursday 3-1 and 7-3 before their series clinching victory on Friday night.
“We had a great postseason and came out ready to play,” Natural Baseball Academy 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.”