Homegrown winners: Local talent key to Baker baseball securing conference crown
photo by: Contributed photo
It took Cooper Karlin back to 2015.
The Baker second baseman was being fitted for his championship ring with the rest of his collegiate teammates just days after the Wildcats stormed through the Heart of America Athletic Conference’s postseason tournament as the eighth seed. Baker’s five wins in six days came by a combined score of 51-13.
For Karlin, who was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, it was reminiscent of when he won a state title with the Free State Firebirds in the 6A state tournament just four years ago. It didn’t hurt that he is also one of six former FSHS players on this current Baker baseball team.
“It’s that same feeling, it takes you back,” Karlin said. “Everybody loves winning, but the real competitors hate to lose. I think that feeling was brought back. Nobody wanted to lose and nobody wanted to go home. It was that same way in high school, and that’s how we approached every day we took the field.”
photo by: Contributed photo/Baker athletics
In total, Baker has 12 players on its roster who came from an area high school. Karlin, Hunter Gudde and Daniel Bryant were all on the FSHS team that won a state title in 2015. Kendall Fritzel, Matt Hill and Quinton Graham all came from Free State as well.
Zak McAlister is the lone Lawrence High alum on Baker’s 2019 team. Bailey Pattin and Peyton Kahle played at the high school level for Perry-Lecompton. Laken Straub, Aaron Foster and David Hornberger all came to BU from Eudora High.
“I played little league ball with some of these guys and now we are making this run in college. It is kind of unbelievable,” said Pattin, who is the starting shortstop. “It is crazy to see them develop into great ball players. It is one of those things that you don’t think about when you are 9-years-old. But it is one of the coolest things about it.”
That local presence extends to the coaching staff, too. Ryan Goodwin, who just completed his fourth season at the helm, graduated from LHS in 1995. Tanner Kilmer (LHS) and Matthew Abel (Eudora) serve as assistants on Goodwin’s staff. And that is all by design.
“I have always felt like we are an area that gets overlooked,” Goodwin said. “When I came in, I roped off what I called the state of Baker, which was Topeka to the Kansas-side of Kansas City. I knew that’s where I wanted the bulk of my team to be from.”
photo by: Contributed photo/Baker Athletics
Goodwin’s emphasis on locking up local talent should come as no surprise, considering his background.
As a player, Goodwin competed at the collegiate level for Highland Community College before going to the University of South Dakota, where he still holds the career saves record. He eventually joined Free State’s coaching staff in 2002 under the direction of Mike Hill. Goodwin also coached alongside Brad Stoll, who is now the head coach at LHS.
“I know I’m getting guys that philosophically have been coached up the way I would want them coached up with the right mentality and there isn’t much of a learning curve,” Goodwin said. “All the Lawrence guys come with that, where losing bothers them a lot. In Lawrence, we take pride in being a winner and winning as many games as you can.”
That’s been the key to Baker changing the culture of its program under Goodwin. In 2019, the Wildcats finished with a 26-27 record and made it the NAIA Opening Round for the first time since the new format was established 11 years ago.
While the local players took different paths to becoming a Wildcat, they all have made an impact to help Goodwin and company turn things around. Karlin paced the offensive attack for much of the spring. He started in 52 of the 53 games, batting .397 with 33 RBIs and 14 doubles.
On the mound, Gudde posted a 3.43 ERA in 10 starts, striking out 37 batters and walking 13 across 60 1/3 total innings. Gudde threw eight shutout innings, while allowing six hits, in a 14-0 upset win over top-seeded William Penn in the league tournament.
“Honestly, it felt similar (to the state tournament) throughout the whole tournament,” Gudde said. “Everything was just going our way. It was just a lot of fun, the team came together and we got the job done.”
And this could just be the beginning.
Goodwin continues to target local players, and the latest proof of that was locking up Pattin’s younger brother, Blaine, from Perry-Lecompton. Their grandfather is former Kansas City Royals pitcher and University of Kansas baseball coach Marty Pattin, who passed away in October of 2018.
Next spring will be the first time the Pattin brothers have ever been teammates, despite growing up in the same home.
“He’s already buying in, ” Bailey Pattin said. “He can’t wait to get to work out here with us.”