By Kyle Daubs
How far back does this road to the Super-Sectional go?
Could it go back to this past fall when the Charleston baseball team was able to play intrasquad games when COVID regulations were loosened up?
Could it go back to last spring when the pandemic shut down the season completely and turned away the best potential CHS roster the school had ever seen on paper?
What about the days of travel baseball when this very gifted senior class were enjoying the game at 7 and 8 years old?
“Nobody knows how hard these kids have worked to get to this moment,” said Charleston coach Derrick Landrus.
When Charleston defeated Troy Triad on Friday, 7-6, in extra innings at Marty Pattin Field, fans may not have realized how special the moment truly was. It was the first time since 1960, the days of the late Paul Foreman coaching at the helm, that a Charleston baseball team had captured a Sectional Championship.
With a win tonight against Springfield in the Super Sectional at Milliken University, the Trojans could become the first CHS baseball team in school history to make a Final Four.
“That would be pretty special,” said Landrus. “We have a chance to match the school record for wins with a win, but I think it would be extra special given everything the kids have gone through in life dating back to last year.”
That 1960 team is also the last CHS baseball team to make the state tournament, back when the Elite 8 was considered the state tournament. Given the challenges this team has faced within the last two years related to the pandemic and related regulations, senior Cory Spour said that this has even more of a special feeling.
“It just means so much to all of us seniors,” said Spour, who scored the game-winning run on Friday. “We have been playing together since we were 7 years old. Between COVID, injuries, and some guys shuffling from JV and varsity, all the seniors had to come together with the younger guys stepping up in big ways. It just shows what we can do as a complete team.”
The team has faced several highs and lows.
Charleston, now 26-9, started fast, winning eight of its first nine games this season. But then the Trojans lost four of six, including big losses to Teutopolis and Effingham, but that was followed by a 7-1 run
Mattoon then swept CHS in a doubleheader about three weeks ago, essentially knocking Charleston from Apollo Conference contention after having been considered a preseason favorite. The Trojans ultimately finished fourth.
Something changed since after weekend, though. Charleston has lost only one game and is playing some of its best baseball at the right time, taking nine of its past 10.
“I’ll go ahead and say it. With COVID and not knowing if we had a season, plus guys not playing baseball for almost two years, we didn’t know what we had with pitching,” said Landrus. “The core group has always had the ability though. I’ve been lucky to coach them for years, dating back to when they were 7 years old. They have had success throughout the years. It wasn’t until about three weeks ago that the bats took a complete 360-degree turn.”
Connor Woodley, firing a pitch to a Triad batter in last week’s Sectional championship, is among 17 pitchers used by Charleston this season. He is 6-1 with a 1.86 ERA.
The pitching staff is led by, well, whomever you want it to be.
With Ben Hess, the No. 1 rated pitching prospect in the state, bowing out of the season after just 8 ⅓ innings, the surrounding cast was forced to step up in a big way.
Charleston has used 17 pitchers this season, including four pitchers with 25 innings or more work. Kyler Sweeney leads the team in innings (36), Connor Woodley owns the most wins (6-1), while James Hess owns the best-earned run average (1.63) and strikeouts (46).
Ty Coartney (2.63), Sweeney (2.92) and Peyton Daugherty (2.94) also have impressive ERAs.
Kendall Pankey leads the team in average at .349, followed by Dane Herrington (.337), Ty Coartney (.333) and Cory Spour (.309). Both Herrington and Spour have also delivered big postseason home runs. Plus, seven players have driven in 16 or more runs across the team’s 35 games.
Charleston has outscored four IHSA postseason opponents 40-17.
“Last year, we had some high hopes,” said Spour. “We thought we had a shot at making a run to state. With what was coming back, we weren’t so sure about our pitching. We were short-handed, but we had a lot of kids step up and we’ve just sort of defied the odds since.”
Now, the team must defy more odds.
Springfield High is ranked No. 1 in the state, according to MaxPreps. The Senators enter the game tonight with a 28-5 overall record and an 8-1 mark in the loaded Central State 8 Conference. Springfield is coming off a 13-12 victory over conference rival Chatham-Glenwood in the Sectional Championship.
Landrus, though, says that the Trojans have faced potentially the hardest road to the Super-Sectional, so facing another team with a high ranking isn’t going to get into their heads.
“They are ranked No. 1 according to MaxPreps,” said Landrus. “We’re going to have to play well to win, but I think we’re prepared. They (his players) haven’t had an easy road to get here. Highland was ranked No. 7 in the state. Troy Triad was ranked No. 3 in the state. We’re now No. 7 in the state. I’d say we have had one of the most difficult paths to the Super Sectional. These kids have been in big games before. They know how to play the game calmly.”
Springfield features a very talented lineup that hits .372 as a team. Headlining the lineup is sophomore Ryne Crun with five home runs and 32 runs batted in to go with a .361 batting average. Following Crun is senior Ben Hartl with three home runs and a team-leading 12 doubles.
Luke Flesner, a senior, leads the team in batting average with a .486 average (36-102), while senior Adam Passmore is next at a .438 clip (35-80) to go with a team-leading four triples and a second-best 28 RBIs.
The pitching staff is fairly dazzling as well with two pitchers in Marc Black and Passmore owning perfect 5-0 records. Passmore pitched 1/3 of an inning in the team’s win on Friday, while Black was not used at all.
Black owns a 1.93 earned run average in 32 innings and 37 strikeouts, while Passmore has posted a 1.75 ERA in 32 innings and struck out 35. The middle relief options are equally good – Hartl, Alonzo Veach, and Kaleb Rogers have a combined 0.95 ERA in 41 1/3 innings and 69 strikeouts.
Good thing the confidence is at an all-time high right now.
“They know that they have a shot in any game we play,” said Landrus. “It’s the mindset of go out and plays and whatever happens, happens. I’d say we are pretty confident right now.”
As Landrus recalls, this group has faced challenges before. Between playing in championships in travel baseball to finishing as the state runner-up in the 2016 Class 3A IESA State Baseball Championships, Charleston has been primed for this opportunity for years.
Now all that is left is leaving it all on the field.
“It’s exciting,” said Spour. “We’re ready to go show what we can do.”
Who: Charleston vs. Springfield
Records: Charleston (26-9), Springfield (28-5)
Where: Decatur Milliken University Baseball Field
Time: 7 p.m.