St. James Academy baseball will defend state title after regional tournament victory
If the St. James Academy baseball team wants to repeat as 4A state champions this weekend, it will rely on the same thing that has propelled it so far this season: pitching.
“Our pitching has been solid, and that’s what we hung our hat on all year,” coach Brian Bucklin said.
St. James won the 4A regional tournament in Eudora to return to the state championship tournament in Salina this Friday.
In last week’s first round, the Thunder battled through a difficult Bonner Springs club, but managed to eke out a 3-2 victory thanks to a clutch hit by junior Jansen Keyes. In the following game, St. James brought out its talented ace, senior Matt Eckelman. Recently named the 4A state pitcher of the year, Eckelman put together another masterful performance against De Soto, throwing a complete game shutout in the 2-0 victory.
“We just had a lot of momentum after that game,” Bucklin said.
Eckelman has been as steady a pitcher as possible at this level, showing why he will be a force to be reckoned with not only during his last state tournament appearance but also when he moves onto the next level.
Finishing up the weekend, the Thunder continued its success in the championship game against Spring Hill, a team it had defeated earlier this year in the Butch Foster Memorial Classic championship game.
Much like their game in April, the Thunder dominated the Broncos, winning 10-0 behind another impressive pitching performance by Keyes. Keyes pitched six innings, allowing just one hit to the Broncos.
It’s not only Keyes and Eckelman pushing this team forward. Seniors Stephen Gillespie and Christian Bednar have rounded out the Thunder rotation to provide four solid starting pitching options, which could be necessary in the last weekend of the year.
The key has not been just the pitching but pulling out close contests in order to move into another position to be competitive at the 4A level.
But it’s also a collection of other players. Junior David Maddock continued to show why he’s been one of the more consistent hitters, knocking around a couple crucial doubles this weekend. Bucklin said sophomore third baseman Alex King also put together another solid weekend hitting, especially in the semifinal and championship games.
The Thunder’s large collection of position players continues to propel the team into the right direction and create depth for the squad.
Bucklin said this group did not have a lot of experience coming into the year but has contributed tremendously to the team’s 16-6 mark.
By the time the Thunder’s first-round game against No. 2 Trinity Academy at 4 p.m. Friday rolls around, St. James should be well rested after more than seven days between contests.
“They’re a team who’s won 20 games this year, so they’re used to winning,” Bucklin said.
However, the Thunder believes they’ve readied their players for the upcoming tournament atmosphere.
Bucklin said that with the schedule his team has played, including several 5A and 6A caliber schools, he believes the team is well prepared for Salina.
The long layoff will not affect the team though, especially since all of its competition will have the same amount of rest.
“It’s definitely not a disadvantage because everyone is in the same boat,” Bucklin said.
Even with a No. 7 seed in Salina, the team believes it will not affect the goal they been hoping for throughout the year, a repeat of the state championship.
“With school getting done here, if I’m one of those guys, the only thing on my mind is baseball,” Bucklin said.
The tournament will be held May 25-26 at Dean Evans Stadium, 841 Markley Road, in Salina.