When the American Legion AA state baseball tournament opens today in Sabetha, Ottawa will be the odds-on favorite.
That’s because Ottawa is unbeaten in its 39 games so far this summer.
“It’s pretty unreal,” Ottawa catcher Chase Dengel said. “But it’s really exciting for us to try to keep that going at state. I mean, I’ve never heard of an undefeated state champion in baseball.”
Ottawa will meet Pratt in its first-round tourney game at 3:30 p.m. today.
“I think we have a tough road ahead of us,” Ottawa coach Shawn Herrmann said. “We start with Pratt. They don’t have a high school team, but in 2007 they finished second in state. They’re 17- and 18-year-olds, big kids who like to play baseball.”
In a 39-0 season, it’s hard to find just one game that stands out. There was the 20-0 romp over Osawatomie in the championship game of the zone qualifier in Paola last weekend.
But for Herrmann, the most memorable game came midseason against Olathe South in the Emporia Tournament.
“They’re one of the top AAA teams in the state,” Herrmann said. “We ended up beating them, 11-9. But there was a lot of tension, a lot of pressure. Guys stepped up and played really well when we had to.”
Olathe South came within one game of qualifying for the AAA Legion state meet, but fell to the Lawrence Raiders in the championship game.
Herrmann has made it a point to use every player on his roster.
“Everyone doesn’t show up every single game,” he said, “but it seems like there’s a different player that steps up every night and either pitches well or hits well or does something for us.”
One is Blake Firestone, an upcoming senior at Ottawa High. Firestone has worn many hats this summer.
“He’s pitched for us, he plays third base for us, he’s caught for us, he bats leadoff for us, and he sparks us,” Herrmann said. “He’s a major contributor.”
While most of the players have been playing together since junior high, Ottawa has received a boost from brothers Corbin and Connor Goedert, who moved to Ottawa from Concordia. Corbin will be a senior and Connor a sophomore at Ottawa High.
“They’ve helped a lot,” Herrmann said. “They’re two of the top five hitters on our team, and they both have seven or eight home runs. They’re good ball players. Corbin is one of the best hitters we’ve had in the Ottawa Legion.”
But no one player is responsible for this summer’s success. Together this group has just clicked.
“They’re so unselfish,” Herrmann said. “Every guy has played in every single game. When I say, ‘You’re going to come out,’ they really don’t care if they come out because they know they’re going to play the next game.”