Kaden McMullin walked off the mound, and his father broke the baseball code.
Celebrations, especially in a state championship game, are reserved for afterward. But after McMullin got through the only four batters he faced — the last four batters he faced — Kevin, his dad and the assistant coach, couldn’t help it. His son came through in the moment he had been building toward.
“I put it in his mind about two weeks ago,” Kevin said. “I said, ‘For us to win state, we have to win three games. We’ve got two starters that we know can get us there. You’re going to have to pitch in this tournament for us to win it.’ We threw bullpen sessions and all the regular things — but for the bigger purpose that, ‘Your biggest moment is still to come.’ “
Kevin waited for his son by the first-base dugout, and when Kaden made his way over, his dad hugged him tight, picked him up and started crying. There were still outs to come and runs to score, but he did his job just as he dad did in 1991.
On May 24 at the University of Kansas’ Hoglund Stadium, Campus High School beat Lawrence Free State 3-2 in extra innings to clinch its second state baseball championship in school history. The last time the Colts won it, Kevin wasn’t an assistant coach as he is now; he was an All-State short stop and one of the top players to come through Haysville.
Kevin went on to play at Kansas State, where he became a starter in 1993.
He helped Campus make history over a quarter-century ago, and he was on the field to watch his son do it for the first time since.
When Campus coach Bryan Clasen addressed his team for the final time after winning the state title, he started tearing up, he said. He thought about the McMullins’ story and senior Brycen Schroeder, whose father was also on the 1991 team.
“It’s just an unbelievable story,” Clasen said. “The same group of kids were 6-15 about 24 months ago, and now they are 6A state champions. It’s a fairytale ending I guess you could say.”
Kaden said he wasn’t too nervous when he took the mound for the final time in his high school career. The Colts had made it to the state tournament the year before, so Kaden said he got the jitters out then. But when he got the call to start warming up in the bullpen, he didn’t stop for three innings.
“I probably threw 50 pitches out there and 70 percent curveballs,” Kaden said. “I grew up looking up to my dad, so I did the best I could for him and for the team.”
Kaden needed 21 pitches, fewer than half of his warmup, to get through the four batters he faced. But it worked. He came into the game at the most critical point.
Campus got out to an early 2-0 lead, but in the top of the fifth, Free State evened the score. Clasen pulled junior starting pitcher Tyler Waits and brought in McMullin to face the heart of the Free State lineup with two outs and a runner at second.
A single to the outfield was likely to score a third run and put Campus behind, but McMullin needed just three pitches to strike out Free State senior Jack Kallenberger, the Firebirds’ cleanup hitter. The Colts got out of the inning.
To start the sixth, McMullin gave up a leadoff double but gave up nothing more. Kevin said he was nervous with every pitch. He leaned on the fence with his head over his arms, Clasen said. It looked like he was trying not to vomit, he said.
“When you’re a parent, that never changes, it never goes away, and it never gets easier,” Kevin said. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s the state tournament, the middle of the season or the first day of practice. There is nothing you can do. You’ve turned them loose, and it’s their time, it’s their turn. You can only hope you did enough to help them in that position.
“It’s part of being a coach, but it’s intensified being a parent.”
Kevin said his championship team in 1991 wasn’t supremely talented. The Colts had just seen former Wichita State Shocker Carl Hall come through the program and eventually become a Kansas Sports Hall of Fame inductee. But Campus entered the state tournament as the No. 7 seed with a 12-10 record.
2019 wasn’t that way. The Colts were considered a state championship favorite since they took third last year. They have All-Metro talent littered throughout the lineup with players like junior Tanner Leslie, senior Tyler Kahmann, senior Mateo Martinez and junior Jackson Hartley, who holds an offer to WSU.
The title was almost upended though before Campus even reached state. The Colts needed extra innings to get past 11-7 Junction City and had to beat rival Derby for the third time this season in the state quarterfinals. Campus finished the championship season 23-2.
“In the last week, we started putting our arms around each other and hugging each other before games because I knew this was the last time this team was going to be here and this was the last time I was going to coach my son,” Kevin said. “We were just celebrating in that moment. This team was never going to be here again. Even though the juniors are coming back, the seniors aren’t, and this team was only here once.”