The Westminster Christian Academy Wildcats will take a 20-game winning streak on the road Tuesday – with hopes to give retiring coach Rick Van Gilst a send-off to remember in a Class 4 sectional game.
Westminster (31-1) will travel to play Clayton (11-15) at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday (May 24).
The Wildcats advanced after they scored a 12-2 win over St. Charles to win the Class 4 District 6 championship played at Orchard Farm. It was the first district title after in three years for Westminster.
It was the 10th district crown for Van Gilst, who retiring when the season ends after 48 years of coaching. He has spent the last 33 years at Westminster.
“It’s always nice to win a district,” Van Gilst said. “I’ve never had a last year before but it’s always nice in your last year to win something.”
Van Gilst said he is enjoying his remaining time with his squad.
“I’m having fun. That was my goal this year — to have fun in the last year here,” Van Gilst said. “So far I’ve achieved that.
“Of course, the more games we win the more fun I’ll have.”
Clayton stands in the way of Van Gilst and his squad from having more fun.
Westminster played Clayton in district action last in 2015. The Greyhounds eliminated the defending state champion Wildcats 2-0.
“We don’t play them in the regular season and the only time we see them is in the playoffs,” Van Gilst said. “I know they have a pretty good team this year. They got a really good pitcher (Max Hunter) who’s going to throw against us. They’ve some good hitters.
“We’ll have to play well against them. I know they’ll be ready.”
There is no pressure on his squad, Van Gilst said. The Wildcats’ lone loss this spring came on April 1 in a 3-0 setback to Vianney. Since then, Westminster has won every game.
“I don’t think they’re thinking about win streaks that’s for sure,” Van Gilst said. “I think they’re thinking of winning the next game. That’s their focus.”
For the Wildcats to advance to the quarterfinals, they must stick with what they’ve done well all spring.
“We have to play good defense and get the pitching we need to win,” Van Gilst said. “When you have a good pitcher going against you, you can’t count on scoring a lot of runs. We’ll need to pitch well and play good defense.”
The Wildcats will start senior D. J. Stewart. The 6-foot-2 Stewart is 7-0 with an 0.42 ERA this spring. In eight starts, he has six complete games.
“He’s been pretty good,” Van Gilst said. “He’s a great job for us pitching in relief and as a starter. Most of the time he’s been pretty good. He’s basically got two pitches. He’s on the plate. He doesn’t walk many.”
Westminster breezed through district play. The Wildcats had a first-round bye and then dispatched Duchesne 10-4.
“It’s always nice to have a first-round bye,” Van Gilst said. “We’ve been playing well all year. There’s always things to work on but we’ve been pretty good.”
Westminster faced St. Charles for the district title. The Wildcats scored a 12-2 victory.
Wes Schad and Jimmy Obertop led the Wildcats’ attack with three hits and four RBIs apiece. Logan Sells and Josh Pottebaum each hit home runs.
“This is a good ballclub,” Van Gilst said. “They find ways to get it done. It’s really something to play this many games and only lose just one.
“We’re better than I anticipated at the beginning of the year.”
This year’s squad has come together and produced for Van Gilst.
“Every year we lose anywhere from six to 10 seniors,” Van Gilst said. “So you’re starting off with trying to fill holes. Guys that come up have to get it done. Guys who come up and guys who came back have been really good. They’ve done a great job.
“It’s been fun to watch.”