LAWRENCE — In the cold and rain, the Maize baseball team staked its claim to history with a 10-0, run-rule victory over Blue Valley West on Saturday in the Class 6A championship game.
Now, only one question remains for the group of schoolboy heroes who dogpiled senior Conner Knight after he scored the winning run at Hoglund Ballpark, completing a 25-0 season and giving the nationally-ranked Eagles their first state title since 2005.
Is this the best high school baseball team in Kansas history?
"Only time will tell... but a group of boys like this definitely doesn't come around very often," Maize coach Rocky Helm said. "The thing that is special about this team is how they have always believed in each other... it's tough to express how I feel about them. They mean everything to me."
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Helm tabbed junior Craig Nicks to start in the championship game after the Eagles scratched out a 7-6 win in eight innings over Shawnee Mission East in the semifinals. Nicks delivered a shutout, striking out five and giving up three hits.
" (Helm) told me last night that an opportunity could come up and I needed to be ready," Nicks said. "So no nerves... I just wanted to relax and throw strikes."
Blue Valley West committed four errors, none more costly than in the first inning when freshman catcher Tanner Gragg misplayed a pitch as Knight struck out swinging with two outs. Gragg's throw to first sailed into right field as Knight hustled down the basepath. Thomas Clay scored and Knight advanced to second. Gage Byers singled home Knight to give the Eagles a 2-0 lead.
"You can't blame the game on one play, but we don't have that happen and we're still 0-0 headed into the fifth inning," BV West coach Bill McDonald said. "You can't commit four errors in a state championship game, let alone against a team like we played."
Helm found a way to end the BV West second inning from the dugout when he approached the home-plate umpire with a rule book in the middle of Jared Singer's at-bat. Singer's bat was deemed illegal and he was called the third out.
"I have no idea what that was about," McDonald said. "The umpires check the bats before the game."
Maize added two more runs in the fourth on an RBI triple from Andrew Shaw and a sacrifice fly from Clay that scored Shaw for a 4-0 lead. The Eagles poured it on in the sixth, capping things off with an RBI single from JC Sturgeon that scored Tory Bell and Knight, who managed just a few steps before finding himself at the bottom of a dogpile.
"When I came around third I knew we had a chance to win it right there," Knight said of the run rule. "So I'm thinking that I'm getting in there, no matter what. This, by far, is the funnest year of baseball I've ever had."
Amidst the postgame celebration, Clay, a senior, sought out Nicks and the two embraced. After several seconds, Nicks began to weep.
"Why are you crying, brother?" Clay asked Nicks, smiling. "We did it."
Blue Valley West (15-10) 000 000 — 0 3 4 Maize (25-0) 200 206 — 10 9 0
SM East (18-6) 051 000 00 — 6 8 0 Maize (24-0) 310 011 01 — 7 11 1
BV West (15-9) 020 010 0 — 3 4 0 Lawrence (14-10) 000 002 0 — 2 4 0