Chiefs close out undefeated campaign
SPRINGFIELD — Perfection is the goal of every competitor, but it is rarely achieved.
Yet the Santa Fe baseball team accomplished that feat on May 29, 2008, when it beat Stoutland, 12-7, in the championship game of the MSHSAA Class 1 Championships at Springfield. The Chiefs became the 10th team since the playoff system began in 1950 to finish as an undefeated state champion, an achievement which hasn’t been repeated since.
“You’re perfect” were the first words head coach Josh Fisher told his team when they gathered after its on-field celebration and the trophy ceremony.
Santa Fe had made it to the final four the previous season, but lost both games — placing fourth with a 12-1 loss to Valle Catholic of Ste. Genevieve. That was a disappointing conclusion to a meet which had begun in such promising fashion, with an early 5-0 lead over Stoutland before having victory snatched away when an error allowed the winning run to score during an 8-7 semifinal loss.
“It just wasn’t meant to be,” Fisher said at the end. “What makes it all better is that we’re all back next year.”
Fisher’s confidence wasn’t misplaced as his third season at the helm began. Santa Fe’s 10th season of baseball was to become its best. The Chiefs were dominant, out-scoring opponents 254-54 during the 20-game schedule. Until the quarterfinals, the closest contests they had experienced were the three wins over I-70 Conference rival Wellington-Napoleon: 6-2 at the Tigers’ field in mid-April, a 7-3 decision in the semifinals of the league tournament — which Santa Fe won with a 17-7, six-inning romp over Concordia three days later — and a return to Wellington for a 7-1 victory in the sectional round.
The Chiefs got their biggest scare in the quarterfinals, when they scored twice in the bottom of the sixth inning for a 6-5 comeback home win over Archie.
That put them up against defending state champion New Haven in the first tilt at Meador Park. The Shamrocks took a 2-0 lead into the top of the sixth, when Santa Fe exploded for six runs on five hits — including two-run singles by Thorp and junior Logan Kirchhoff — on the way to a 7-4 decision.
The Chiefs were glad to get another crack at Stoutland after their near-miss a year earlier.
“Our boys played tough that game," Fisher reflected on that loss. “They’re going to have to come out ready to rock.”
They did that, scoring twice in the top of the first inning on two errors and singles by junior Taylor Wesley and sophomore Matt Lovercamp. Santa Fe had its big outburst in the fourth, which they entered with a 2-1 lead.
Junior Max Capps got it going with a one-out single, bringing on the top of the batting order. Junior Ben Catlett walked and sophomore Hunter Rolf singled in the first run of the frame. Thorp kept the rally going with a two-out single, loading the bases. Two walks pushed across a pair of runs and senior Brandon Schmidt delivered the knockout blow with a two-run single that dropped in front of the diving attempt of senior centerfielder Tyler Wrinkle.
Wesley doubled in a run in the fifth for an 8-1 lead, but senior Josh White’s two-out single capped a three-run stanza for Stoutland.
“I was telling our guys, ‘I need some runs, I need some runs,’” recalled Wesley, the starting pitcher. “’Trust me. If we get some runs, I’ll do it.’”
He was true to his word. Although the Chiefs would have won otherwise, despite the Tigers’ three-run seventh, Wesley got four more runs of support during his team’s final trip to the plate — providing half of them himself with a homer following Catlett’s double. Thorp and senior Logan Wesley singled and scored on an error for an eight-run cushion.
Twenty wins in 20 games. It was the fitting conclusion for a club with averaged 12.7 runs per game, batted .421 as a team with 19 homers — five each for Thorp and Catlett — and posted a 2.19 earned-run average.
Santa Fe would continue to be a force in small school baseball, returning to the finals three more times during the next five years — winning a second championship in 2012.
But the neither the Chiefs nor any other Missouri team would be perfect again.
“20 Years/20 Memories” is a series of personal retrospectives of significant moments in local sports since the start of the millennium by Chris Allen, Sports Editor of the Marshall Democrat-News since 1996.
Contact Chris Allen at email@example.com