Over the weekend, the Westside varsity baseball team made it to the championship game in the Frank Ryan Invitational, hosted by Millard West. The top teams across the metro competed on Friday and Saturday, as games on Thursday rained out. The tournament was played in three rounds, with all teams playing three games.
Westside started their weekend going head to head with Lincoln East, a team that was ranked third in the state going into the season. With proof of the team’s momentum in the form of a six-game win streak, the Warriors weren’t going to let a good team shake their process. Senior Simon Stover mentioned after the game that Warrior baseball couldn’t be shaken by a reputation.
“A lot of people thought of them as the best team, but we thought we were the better team and we came out and played Warrior baseball and that turned out really well for us,” Stover said.
Lincoln East’s only score came in the top of the first inning before pitcher Kadyn Van Hill and the Westside defense were able to shut out the Spartan’s offense. Westside responded with their own run in the bottom of the first and it looked to be a pitcher’s duel the rest of the way. However, one Westside run in the fourth and two in the sixth would give them a 4-1 win. Coming out with a win, the Warriors were scheduled to play Millard North at 7 that night, another top-five team. Head coach Otis Seals talked about the difficulty of being able to have two games up against top ten teams in one day.
“We had talked all week about the way they set up districts in baseball,” Seals said. “You most likely play a split doubleheader at the end of the year, so we really were talking [today] about being at practice for that. It’s tough to play a game and then have to shut your mind off for two and a half hours and then come back and play again.”
Despite the break between games, Westside was ready to hit the field again on Friday night. Millard North was able to see an early lead, but the Warriors managed to tie the game in the bottom of the third. The Mustangs saw another lead in the fifth inning, but Westside responded with four runs in the bottom of the sixth to gain the lead back. Starting pitcher Simon Stover would shut down the Mustangs in the seventh and the Warriors held on 6-3. Stover mentioned the support of his team that allowed him to throw all seven innings- something that’s rarely seen in high school baseball.
“I did [the same thing] six days ago against the same team. It was really difficult but my team had my back and I just kept throwing,” Stover said.
Coach Seals also talked about the recurring offensive momentum, and how hitting was a major team goal.
“One of our [goals] is to hit the ball hard, and for the first few innings tonight we were hitting the ball hard, just right at people,” Seals said. “No one was mad because that was the goal, we were hitting the ball hard and eventually they would fall and throughout the game, they did.”
With the two wins, the Warriors had added onto their now eight-game win streak. Coach Seals pointed out the growth made by the team throughout the season, both offensively and defensively, and how some guys are growing into their spots on the team.
“We’ve had a lot of guys make a ton of progress. We’ve got a bunch of guys who are settling into some spots and playing really good baseball,” Seals said. “I think the bats always come on a little later in the spring just because the weather is tough or they’ve been off for six months or whatever, so part of it is just that we’ve been hitting a lot more.”
Senior Kutty George also talked about the increase in the team’s offensive game.
“At the beginning of the season we started in a slump but we’re starting to get out of it right now and we’re starting to hit the ball pretty hard,” George said.
That growth and momentum would be key to the team’s success going into the championship game against number-one-ranked Millard South on Saturday night. Unfortunately, the team let up eight runs early in the game and wasn’t able to respond. Millard South took the championship with a 10-2 win over Westside, ending the Warriors’ eight-game win streak. Junior RJ Gunderson mentioned the long-tiring week, and how the loss to Millard South would be a useful lesson.
“We’ve been executing and we’ve been winning. It was a long week, and we had a game every day. [Following] this game, we just need to learn from our mistakes,” Gunderson said.
Following the game on Saturday night, the team talked about consistency and focus, and Seals believes that will carry over into the next week.
“We were talking today and the theme of this [game] is that the key to our success is consistency. We have to show up with the intensity and focus every day,” Seals said. ”I think that message resonated and we’ll be ready to show up again next week.”
Seals and the team start the next week of the season at Bellevue West on Tuesday and then will host Omaha Burke in the first round of the Metro Conference Tournament on Thursday.