Story and photo by Chet Piotrowski Jr.
Charleston senior pitcher/second baseman Josh Sipes and catcher Jacob Morrisey faced a giant task on the ball diamond Thursday afternoon.
The Trojans hosted Tolono Unity, a Class 2A top 10 team for the better part of the season. The odds of defeating them were improbable.
Yet, the improbable was made probable due in part to them scoring three runs in the 5-4 win.
It wasn’t the only improbable task the duo accomplished this week.
The duo were named co-valedictorians for the Class of 2023. Classmate Sophia Smith was also named co-valedictorian.
The announcement was made during Tuesday evening’s award ceremony.
“It felt pretty good to go up there and shake his (Jacob’s) hand,” Sipes said.
Morrisey said the work ethic to accomplish something of this magnitude was instilled in him by his parents.
“I think it was ingrained from my parents from when I was a child,” Morrisey said. “And also the desire to have success and know what it takes to get there.”
While Morrisey primarily played just baseball, Sipes also played basketball.
Sipes said when he attempts a task, he wants to devote his best.
“Anything I do, I just try to do to the best of my ability,” Sipes said. “I’m grateful for good friends that will study with me so I wasn’t stranded out on my own.”
Being valedictorian, like his sister Anna and mother Jenny, wasn’t a goal he had set out to accomplish. It just sort of happened.
“I wasn’t really thinking of ‘top of the class’,” he said referring to the award’s proper designation given by Charleston High School. “Last year, I was 12th. Then this year, I was just fortunate enough to sneak in there.”
Sacrifices were made to be as best as they could on the field and in the classroom.
Morrisey said he’d spend every other weekend at home studying while forgoing the option of heading out with his friends.
“It’s like a full-time job and a half,” Morrisey said. “Going to school all day and then to practice. Then after practice you had to go study so you could be the best you can.”
Morrisey was behind the plate the majority of the season. Sipes typically pitched the second game of an Apollo Conference doubleheader and otherwise played second base.
Sipes acknowledged that he would have enjoyed socializing.
“I definitely spend more time studying than hanging out with my buddies,” Sipes said. “To me. it’s worth it because I know in the long run, academics is going to pay off.”
“Time management is huge,” Sipes said. “It takes a lot of practice to be a good athlete. Then to study in the classroom takes as much if not more time. It means using your time wisely. So if you have to stay home on a Friday night and instead of going out with your buddies…”
Sipes said they had a great support group and never felt pressured by peers.
“We have a pretty good group of guys,” Sipes said. “No one gave us a hard time for it.”
They studied a great deal with centerfielder James Hess, who finished fourth after these three in their class.
“James helped me the most with math,” Morrisey said. “We always studied together for tests and quizzes.”
He said his parents helped him with his English.
“I’m not the best, but I’ve gotten better.”
“James definitely got me through AP chemistry,” Sipes said. “He and I would study together at County Market in the loft area. We’d grab some snacks and go up and study.”
Sipes said the pair would at least buy Hess lunch for his help as an award.
Morrisey said their peers were excited for them when the announcement was made.
“They were excited for us to see all the hard work paying off,” the catcher said.
Another challenge was trying to fight off the looming end of the school year.
“Senioritis definitely kicked in at the end,” Morrisey said. “I kicked it up a gear so I could finish strong.”
Sipes said times may get hard but you never should quit.
“I think everything is going to get hard at times,” Sipes said. “You never want to quit. It’s going to get hard. It’s OK to think that it would be easier if I didn’t do this, but you stick with it and make it through it.”
Stress to succeed academically played a role as well.
“I felt like school was always on my mind,” Sipes said. “If I didn’t have homework that night, then I was stressing about what I could be doing. It was definitely finding a balance between sports and hitting the books.”
“They’re both difficult in their own way,” he said. “Sports is more physical and you can work on your skills, but there’s only so much you can do. But with school, you can sit down and study for hours and try to memorize things. They’re completely different skill sets you have to master.”
Morrisey said he knew he had to limit how far down the studying rabbit hole he went.
“I tried to limit it so I wouldn’t go overboard,” Morrisey said. “That’s when I started to stress and wouldn’t perform as well.”
He said at winter break he took a step back and relaxed with friends and family.
Sipes didn’t allow himself that luxury.
“I didn’t feel like I could afford to do that,” Sipes said. “If you get behind then you have to work get from behind and that makes it harder in the future. So you have to stay on top of things.”
The pair said they don’t regret any decisions.
“I wouldn’t say so because I put what was important to me first,” Morrisey said. “I devoted it to that.”
“I just want to be the best,” he said. “School can help me progress in my next step and give me the abilities I need to be successful.”
Morrisey will be going to Eastern Illinois University in the fall and majoring in finance and accounting.
Said Sipes: “I’ve known that I’ve loved baseball but academics is going to take me places in life,” he said.
Sipes will attendConcordia University in Wisconsin, where he hopes to become a physical therapist.
Sipes said neither baseball nor academics came easy for the pair.
“I wouldn’t say anything was easy,” Sipes said. “We had to earn it all. We definitely wouldn’t have been able to earn it without the help of family and supportive friends.”