Last year, the De Smet Spartans knocked on the door. This year, they kicked it in.
De Smet rebounded from a fourth-place finish in 2018 to winning the Class 5 state baseball championship this spring.
The Spartans defeated Marquette 6-4 at CarShield Field in O’Fallon.
“We only had six returning players on this year’s team from the previous Final 4 team,” De Smet coach David Stewart said. “It may have helped a little but I just think more than anything we had something special going for us, some magic and our boys truly bought in to the team-first mentality. They played for and with each other.”
The state title win gave De Smet a winning season record at 14-13-1. Marquette, in its first-ever Final Four appearance, wound up 24-9.
It was the second championship in De Smet’s baseball history. The only other state title came in 2000. The program also has two second-place finishes along with three third-place finishes and one fourth-place result.
De Smet advanced to the championship game with 1-0 semifinal victory over Staley.
“It was one of those games that ended and as a coach you couldn’t believe how fast it went and how enjoyable it was to be a part of,” Stewart said.
The only run in the game came in the first inning. It took a little derring-do on Stewart’s part but the gamble paid off with a run.
“Senior Joe Dickson had a great at-bat in our 2-hole to get on base with a walk,” Stewart said. “He stole a base and with two outs our 4-hole hitter Alex Logusch hit a screaming line drive to left field which normally I wouldn’t send because of how hard it was hit but because of the circumstances of it being state and two outs, I sent Joe and he scored with a bang-bang play at home.”
One run likely would not be enough in most games. However, the De Smet had senior left-hander Josh Abel pitching.
“I did not think it would hold up until roughly the third,” Stewart said. “After watching how Josh was working the first few innings I had no doubt that he couldn’t finish it. That was one of the best pitching performances I have witnessed live and I’ve played Division 1 and professional baseball.
“Whatever Josh wanted to do, he did it. Every pitch had intent, even his misses. Incredible.”
Staley did come close to putting something together against Abel.
“In the sixth inning, they got first and third with one out,” Stewart said. “They hit a slow ground ball to Josh’s right which pulled him off the mound. He fielded and threw home to get the runner. The next batter grounded out to end the inning.”
The Spartans went to claim the 1-0 win. It was a satisfying victory for the team.
“We needed Josh to have a night like that obviously,” Stewart said. “Their guy was just as good. We were just fortunate to get one early and hold on to it. “
De Smet has played Marquette twice in the regular season.
On April 6, Marquette beat De Smet 14-4 in Lafayette’s tournament. In a regular game, the Spartans lost 10-5 less than a week later.
“The 14-4 loss was a turning point for us as a team,” Stewart said. “I remember after that game we had a long team meeting about who we were.
The 10-5 loss was telling because we had them beat in the seventh and they came back to put seven up.”
Stewart said he didn’t need to remind his squad about those outcomes.
“Our motto all year was to get better every day whatever that meant,” Stewart said. “Our boys knew we were young and inexperienced but they also knew that we were talented and that if we just focused n the process and found a way to improve every day we could be special. “
The Mustangs scored first and led 3-0 going into bottom of second inning.
Stewart said he was not worried.
“I had full confidence,” Stewart said. “I told my team to stay positive and that we had a lot of game left. “
The Spartans struck quickly. De Smet respond with four runs in home half of second.
Alexander Logusch walked and Seth Roggenkamp doubled to right center. With one out, Benjamin Davis walked. Alexander Ilgenfritz singled through the right side for one run. Tim Chiapel singled up the middle to drive in a run. Justin Keuss reached on a fielder’s choicewith Davis being thrown out at home. Joseph Dickson singled up the middle for two runs.
“This was a big inning and great for momentum,” Stewart said. “We put a lot of good at-bat’s together. “
Marquette tied it a 4-4 in top of fourth.
However, De Smet came back with a run in the fourth and added one more in fifth.
Ilgenfritz doubles with one out and Chiapel singled him home in the fourth. In the fifth, a sacrifice fly by Roggenkamp scored Dickson, who had singled, stole second and advance to third on a ground out.
Senior Colin Doherty pitched the fourth and fifth innings. He picked up the win. Sophomore Brad Rumping pitched the sixth and seventh for the two-inning save.
“Our pitching was phenomenal the entire playoffs,” Stewart said. “In six games, our pitching staff allowed six runs and four games in the finals.”
Rumping struck out Marquette’s Hunter Miller swinging for the game’s final out.
The celebration was on for the Spartans.
“They dogpiled on the mound,” Stewart said. “They were thrilled. I was happy for them and for our school. We needed this.”
Stewart was on the Vianney team that won the state championship in 2006. That means Stewart has state titles as player and as a coach.
However, he said there’s no comparison.
“This is 100 times more gratifying as a coach,” Stewart said. “As a coach, you get to sit back and take it all in. It’s a completely different perspective than as a player.”
The win capped a successful season for De Smet.
“Extremely memorable,” Stewart said .”A lot of time, energy and effort goes into a season.”
The Spartans lose five seniors including a starting pitcher and infielder from the team.
However, De Smet returns 18 players and eight starters. The Spartans have eight positional starters and five pitchers coming back next spring.
The future looks good for the program.
“(I’m) Very hopeful,” Stewart said. “The last out was made with five sophomores, three juniors and one senior on the field.”