The Shawnee Wolves baseball team proved once and for all Saturday why they are the No. 1 team in the nation as they took down Claremore 12-7 for their third straight state title and to end the season with an undefeated 40-0 record. The feat puts the Wolves into an elite class of Oklahoma teams with their third championship in a row and an even more elite class of teams throughout the nation to finish a season unbeaten.
“If you had told me at the beginning of the season that we would win 40 straight, I'd have told you that you were crazy... There's so many variables that can happen throughout the ballgame with high school kids. It's just an incredible feat,” coach Todd Boyer said.
From the crack of leadoff hitter Eli Davis' bat to get the game started with a single and stolen base, there was a feeling that the victory was the Wolves' to take.
AJ Barron came to bat and drove in Davis with an electrifying triple and Jake Taylor brought Barron home on a single. Kade Self reached on a single and later made his way home on an error at first to take an early 3-0 lead.
Taylor hit a solo shot in the top of the third to go ahead 4-0 and the Wolves rallied with five more runs in the fourth to get within one run of the 10-after-5 run-rule but would find themselves playing all seven innings.
They were unable to get anything going in the top of the fifth and gave up two in the bottom.
With a sizable 12-2 lead, a tired Taylor stretched out the final inning of his complete game on the mound and gave up five more runs before getting a strikeout to seal it up. He gave up seven runs on 12 hits, struck out eight and walked one in his performance. Boyer knew when he started Taylor that he could rely on him as one of the senior members for the team.
“He's the rock that we all lean on. We knew that he would give us everything he had today on the mound and that's what he did,” he said.
Claremore started gaining some momentum on Taylor and the Wolves in the bottom of the fifth, before a head's up play by battery-mate Self took the wind out of the Zebras' sails. As a run scored on a sacrifice to center, Davis threw a laser home that was a hair too late, but Self had the wherewithal to throw to third to nail out a runner advancing from second on a tag from Austin Wood for the second out of the inning to avoid any further runs.
“He did an outstanding job. We always preach to look for the next out and that's exactly what he did,” Boyer said. “He knew he didn't have a play at the plate, so he looked for the next out, fortunately the guy was going to third and we threw him out.”
Taylor, 4-for-5 with a homer and a double and Self, 3-5 with two doubles, had three RBI's each to drive in half of the Wolves' runs. Barron was 2-4 with two RBI's, Davis went 3-4 and Cole Payne (1-5), Tanner Sparks (2-5) and Jacob Hill (2-4) drove in a run each. Sparks and Davis each had a double and Hill doubled up twice.
Aware of his limits on the mound even with a good bullpen to back him up, the early lead gave Taylor some breathing room and he was glad to be able to add to a significant chunk of that himself.
“I was just trying to get good pitches to swing at, move to the next guy and try to get some runs on the board, because I knew that I was going to start getting tired on the mound,” he said. “So we tried to score as many runs as we could, jumped on good pitches and it worked out for us.”
The team also won their second academic title, something that Boyer is equally proud of them for.
“Not only did they win three state championships on the field, but they won two academic championships in their high school career as well,” he said. “As a coach I'm as proud of that feat as I am anything else.”
The finish was the perfect cap to a powerful four years for the eight Shawnee seniors (Barron, Davis, Taylor, Sparks, Payne, Talon Phillips, Saul Villegas and Josh Kasterke), several of which have been playing alongside each other most of their lives. Moving on will be a different experience from all they have ever known, Taylor said.
“I'm ecstatic. Just knowing that this group of seniors that I grew up with and this was kind of our farewell. We're great friends and we'll always be around but kinda going our separate ways and seeing how the younger classmen look up to us and are sad that we're leaving. It's just full of emotion and I wouldn't wanna go out any other way,” he said.
The Wolves adopted a mantra over the season that they had emblazoned on shirts they wore proudly through the postseason. “Just some dudes being bros” the shirts said; and as the team hugged, cried and celebrated their victory with their classmates and loved ones surrounding them, the comradery that the team shared shined.
“Growing up with those guys, just the experiences we've had and a lot of guys have stepped up and filled the shoes of some previous guys that have graduated and I felt like as a team our bond was unbreakable and that helped us quite a bit,” Taylor said.
Boyer will miss having the talents of his seniors next season, but is excited to see where they go from here. Davis is committed to the University of Kansas, Taylor and Sparks to Oklahoma State, Barron to Seminole State and Payne received an academic scholarship to Oklahoma Baptist – the rest hope to see their baseball careers continue at the next level but have not made any commitments yet.
He will have a strong and experienced cast returning next year though, as the team looks to see if they can make history again by being the first Class 5A team to win four in a row in the state tournament.
“We're excited about what's coming back. These guys built an unbelievable foundation and challenged the rest of these guys,” Boyer said. “The expectation is for our program to be at the state tournament every year and compete for the state championship. The goals and aspirations will be no different next year than they were this year, but we're going to enjoy this one right now.”