In their first trip to the Class 5 Final Four in baseball, the Marquette Mustangs came home in second place.
The De Smet Spartans scored a 6-4 win over the Mustangs at at CarShield Field. Marquette finished its season at 24-9. De Smet ended its season at 14-13-1.
“I have an immeasurable amount of pride for this team,” Marquette coach John Meyer said. “They were amazing and found ways to improve during the postseason against great competition. They took the program to a place it had not been before.
“They will be remembered as a very special team.”
To reach the championship game, Marquette rallied in the last inning with three runs to score a 4-3 win over Willard.
The wild finish was something that Meyer and his squad won’t soon forget.
“It can’t get much better than being down to your last strike and last out and get a huge extra base hit to tie it in the bottom of the seventh,” Meyer said.
“Then the momentum shifted in our favor and that is when you have to keep attacking, which George Williams did to score Hunter Miller and take the lead. We were in good hands once (reliever) Braden Barnard took the mound in the bottom of the seventh.
Before the seventh inning began, the atmosphere on the bench was what you would expect, Meyer said.
“Pretty typical for that situation,” Meyer said. “There was still positive energy and you heard the right things being said in the dugout. I did not speak to the entire team as one unit. I made sure the first few guys that were due up knew that we still had some good swings left in us.
“A number of players were keeping everyone on task and keeping the focus on winning the inning.”
Marquette had a runner on base and two outs. Senior Jake Hansen comes up and singles to keep the inning alive.
“Jake is the most poised athlete I have ever coached and knows how to win,” Meyer said. “He has great instincts and knew a single will keep this thing going.”
Junior infielder Hunter Miller smacks a two run-run double to tie the game.
“The amazing thing is that he had three doubles in that game,” Meyer said. “It’s hard to hit three doubles in a week. Hunter has hit two grand slams this year and I know one of them was with a two-strike count. It missed being a three-run homer by 10 feet.”
That ball, Meyer said, hit the top section of the right field fence that is more than 30 feet high at CarShield Field.
Miller stole third and George Williams hit a ground ball between shortstop and third base that was very difficult for the shortstop to throw to first base.
“George was able to outrun the wide throw at first,” Meyer said.
As expected, the Mustangs relished the moment.
“The dugout went nuts and most of the players ended up on the field in some capacity,” Meyer said. “It was bedlam.”
Starter Ian Lohse pitched well for Marquette. He struck out 12 in 5 2/3 innings.
“Ian has pitched us into the next round of the playoffs in the district championship, sectional, and in the state semifinal,” Meyer said. “He is a big-game pitcher. He struck out 12 batters in versus a very dangerous line up. He gave up five hits and no earned runs. You can’t ask him to do much more than that.”
The win set up the first-ever championship game Marquette. De Smet won a state championship in 2010.
Meyer liked how his team handled the situation.
“I thought the team did a great job of setting the tone, getting on base and giving us an early lead,” Meyer said about the 3-0 start. “We talked to them all week about keeping things in perspective and not letting any moment get too big. I told them before the game to keep their focus on us, trust themselves and be grateful to play in this game.”
Marquette defeated De Smet twice in the regular season. The Mustangs won 14-4 in the Lafayette Tournament and then scored a 10-5 victory a week later.
“Our kids knew better than to allow overconfidence to creep in their heads,” Meyer said. “They had the right mindset and were ready to play. It was probably a little awkward that we were playing them for the third time this season but what does that say for the quality of competition in the St. Louis area?
“The two final teams playing in the state are about 15 minutes apart from each other. And there are a number of really good teams in both of our conferences.”
The Mustangs went up 3-0 going into bottom of second. However, De Smet rallied to score four runs off Kyle Potthoff.
“Kyle did a good job of keeping the ball down in the zone and De Smet capitalized on a few walks, a few singles up the middle, a double, and a fielder’s choice,” Meyer said. “They were up to the challenge and were able to get key hits with runners in scoring position.”
Marquette tied the game at 4-4 in top of fourth but De Smet answered and scored in fourth and added one more run in fifth.
The Mustangs had chances to score, Meyer said. However, they were unable to dent De Smet.
“We had the bases loaded four times in the first five innings and did not score,” Meyer said. “So we had our chances and stranded too many runners.”
To get that close to a state championship and fall short is disheartening.
“Our team was emotional. They wanted to win this game very badly, so I would say it was a pretty typical postgame mood,” Meyer said. “It hurt because it meant a lot to them. I am sure they were pretty numb during the handshakes. Our kids knew their players pretty well and they handled themselves well.”
Meyer noted he wished he could make it seem better but he knew how difficult it was for his players.
“I told them I don’t have the words to make this sting go away. I reminded them to thank their parents and realize how much they have done for them to play baseball,” Meyer said. “I thanked them for making the season so special, meaningful, and memorable. I tried to keep it brief because there is not much you can do to help them feel better at that moment. I spoke to each player individually and told them I was proud of them and that I loved them.”
The program loses 15 seniors to graduation. The Mustangs lose four position players who started and seven pitchers.
Returning next spring will be four position players who started and one pitcher.
“We are fortunate to have a number of dedicated student athletes, so I am optimistic,” Meyer said. “A lot of it will depend on the team’s culture and willingness to stay humble and hungry.”