Maize beats Maize South in baseball regional championship
Before the Maize baseball team took its celebratory team photo after beating rival Maize South on its home field, one Eagle had a request.
"Get the logo in it," he said.
The crosstown rivalry added another chapter Monday as Maize beat the Mavericks 5-3 in the Class 5A regional high school championship game. Maize, a sixth seed, will have a chance to repeat as state champion.
"It always feels so good to beat them," junior Deriq Doty said. "We never want to lose to our little brother."
Although the Eagles were coming off a state title, even coach Rocky Helm said they were going to be inexperienced in a lot of positions. That showed early this season.
Maize started 5-6 with losses to Blue Valley West, Salina South and Shawnee Mission West, all of which finished near a .500 win percentage. People started to question whether the Eagles still had the juice, Doty said.
Brock McCollough said egos were put aside April 27 against Campus, the league leaders at that time. Maize won 7-1 that day. Since, they are 7-2.
"At the beginning of the year, we weren't reall a team," McCollough said. "It was more just individuals, but once we came together and started believing we could beat people, it took off."
McCollough, a freshman, is part of the youth Helm was referring to before the season started. Underclassmen have accounted 40 runs, 45 hits and, after Monday, one home run.
McCollough roped a ball in the top of the fourth inning to the left-field fence. Maize South's Justin Looper tracked the ball back but ran out of room and crashed into the fence face first.
With Looper down, McCollough sprinted around the diamond and slid into home without a throw to give Maize a 5-0 lead.
Helm said plays and players like that have been wildly important to the Eagles' turnaround.
"It's the biggest accomplishment in my baseball career," McCollough said. "I've worked for baseball since I was 10, and it has always been a dream of mine to play at the top level."
After the game, Maize students rushed the field and celebrated with the players. They waited for the team to wrap up its postgame talk and celebrated again.
The Maize/Maize South rivalry took another turn Monday and will take off next season as the teams are scheduled to meet for the first time in the regular season.
After a couple of thrilling postseason meetings, Helm said it will only get better. But for now, the Eagles are just pumped to move on to their third straight state tournament and fourth in five years.
"We've been trying to stay on them, trying to get them to believe that they can be good," Helm said. "It's probably more young guys than I've played on varsity in my 20 years.
"But I think we've finally molded something together."