Coach Ken Droege compared his Rockwood Summit baseball state championship to the comeback St. Louis Cardinals 2011 season.
“There were definitely opportunities where they could have cashed it in and given up,” he said. “But it obviously worked out in the end.”
The Falcons could have given up at the very start of the season, when the team lost its first four games, including a 10-1 loss to Francis Howell Central.
Even its 21-11 record doesn’t say ‘state champion,’ but Rockwood Summit gritted it out and earned the school’s first state championship and baseball’s first title in the Rockwood School District in nearly 40 years.
Droege said the comeback started when the team got back to the fundamentals of the game.
“We were able to make some smaller strides getting back to where we thought we should be,” he said. “We just kind of weathered the storm for a while and once districts hit, we were ready to go.”
And go they did, as Chad Jones, Clayton Evans, Nick Bamvakais and Matt Kaysinger were all over .500 in on-base percentage. Jacob Manier also came alive with 32 RBI for the season.
But it was Eric Beisel, who led the team with 20 home runs, that gave the Falcons the key hit in the championship game.
The junior hit a walk-off single in the bottom of the seventh to defeat Parkway North in the final game. The Falcons were down 3-1 in the sixth inning and after two walks and an error, Beisel connected and pushed the ball to right field, sending a runner home.
“When Eric (Beisel) came up, he’s such a confident athlete, there was really no doubt he was going to finish it off for us,” Droege said. “That ball would have went out of most high school ballparks. After that, it was just a big celebration; it was one of those magical moments in baseball for our team.”
The Falcons faced Parkway North for their first game of the season and lost by one run. Coming back and playing them for the state championship game was more than fate.
“I don’t think anybody would have said Parkway North and Rockwood Summit would be playing for the State Championship,” Droege said. “We had a bad taste in our mouth after playing that first game and wanted another shot at them.”
The bad taste was replaced with victory on June 2 when the Falcons returned home, state trophy in hand.
“We rolled back into school about midnight and there were people everywhere and music playing outside, just cheering us as we came in. It was a pretty special moment,” Droege said.
The team lost nine seniors to graduation, but the coach still feels confident about next season with starters Beisel, Bamvakais and Kaysinger returning.
Evans signed a letter of intent to play at Southeast Missouri State and fellow senior Brian Quasebarth will be playing at Drury University.
“The kids are going to have to step up and fill some of the voids that we lost, and if they do that, we’re going to be a very competitive team next year,” Droege said.