Players from the St. John Vianney High School baseball team held their head high after a loss in the Class 5 state semifinals.
They congratulated their opponent, regrouped outside the dugout on the artificial turf at Car Shield Field in O’Fallon and then walked to their bus to the cheers of fans.
The team’s 4-3 loss to Ft. Zumwalt West June 2 failed to erase a stellar season for Vianney, which finished 32-7 after a 9-0 win in the third-place game against Lee’s Summit the next day. Ft. Zumwalt lost the title game 2-1 to Jefferson City on a walk-off hit-by-pitch.
Vianney coach Scott Brown, who has a 185-67 record at his alma mater, was disappointed with the narrow loss in the semifinals but saw it as a good experience for his players. “We had a good ride, and we have a young team. Hopefully they’ll learn a lot from this,” he said.
Brown gave credit to Ft. Zumwalt West coach Eric Gough, homer-hitting third baseman Jacob Verchoore and starting pitcher Michael Cessna. “They came out aggressive and did all the things they needed to,” Brown said, adding that Vianney appeared to come out tentative, trying not to lose the ballgame.
After the game, Brown was already urging his players to turn their attention to the third-place contest. He also was looking ahead to next year’s team and another possible run to the state championship.
“You want to win, but if you’re not going to win you gotta learn something,” Brown said.
The Golden Griffins understand there’s a bigger picture, even though they’ve invested a lot of time and effort into trying to win a state title, the coach explained. “Unfortunately in life everything you work for you don’t get. But it’s not a reason to stop working for things.”
God always has a plan, he said, and sometimes “you don’t always understand why He does certain things.” These often are life lessons, hard to take but necessary, he noted.
Brown enjoyed Vianney’s season because of how much progress the team made. The team won 18 of 19 games after two losses in mid-season. Vianney won 5-1 against St. Louis University High School to take the district title, then won in extra innings 3-2 against Marquette and 1-0 vs. Poplar Bluff. “They’ve worked hard, and that’s all you can ask for,” Brown said.
The loss to Ft. Zumwalt West came after Vianney led 3-1 in the top of the fifth thanks to a two-RBI triple by Thomas Kraus and a double by Andrew Keck. Ft. Zumwalt West came right back to tie the game on a home run by Verschoore that just got out over the right field fence. The momentum swung to Vianney when right fielder Anthony Altobella threw out a runner at home, but a base hit by Patrick Connor in the sixth inning gave Ft. Zumwalt the lead. Luke Mann struck out nine in six innings on the mound for Vianney.
Kraus said that as a senior and one of the team captains, he wanted to help lead the team to the state final, but “things didn’t go our way. We had a lot of hard-hit balls that went right at someone, and Ft. Zumwalt did a great job.”
Being with a small group of seniors who led the underclassmen is memorable, he said.”I will remember the times we spent having fun this year. We came into the season with a lot of new faces” and put together a successful season, he said.
The team followed its coach’s urging to focus on each game and forget the losses, Kraus said. The seniors set an example with their hard work and class, doing their best to represent the school, he noted.
Kraus helped lead the team in prayer on the field before practices and games, approaching it in the Marianist tradition. They prayed for God to keep them safe and to play their best.
In the third-place game, Vianney’s Noah Niznik gave up just three hits in 5 ⅔ innings and Sean Regan gave up no hits to maintain the shutout. Vianney scored five runs in the fourth highlighted by a two-run double by Jack Stanfield and four runs in the sixth topped off by an RBI single by pinch-hitter John Allen.