St. Aloysius pitcher Ryno Martin-Nez makes contact during Friday's Game 2 against West Union. (Paul Ingram*For The Vicksburg Post)
St. Aloysius takes Class 1A crown over West Union
By Ernest Bowker
Saturday, May 16, 2009 2:15 AM CDT
PEARL > In five seasons as St. Aloysius’ coach, Clint Wilkerson’s long postgame talks to his team have earned a an infamous place in school lore.
On Friday night, he huddled his team just behind first base at Trustmark Park to deliver a different kind of talk, one he’d been waiting his whole career for. Emotion choking his voice, the normally stone tough Wilkerson praised his players for a job well done. He called out his seniors and thanked them for sticking with it through the tough times. He thanked his younger players for performing their supporting roles.
Finally, when the outfield sprinklers turned on and gave the Flashes a championship shower, he gave them one more thank you for delivering St. Al its first state title in 33 years.
The Flashes thumped West Union, 13-2, on Friday night to finish off a decisive two-game sweep of the MHSAA Class 1A finals. It is St. Al’s first state title since 1976, and one that its current group of players had been striving toward for five years.
“That was awesome. Hours and hours, and days and days of just working. I’ve said it all along, nobody works harder than we do and it all came into place tonight,” Wilkerson said.
St. Al (28-4) finished off a nearly flawless season with a nearly flawless championship series. It outscored West Union 19-2 in the two games, didn’t make an error, and allowed only eight hits. The two runners West Union (18-14) plated in the first inning of Game 2 were the only ones it got past second base the entire series.
“We just didn’t play well,” said West Union coach Ashley Russell, whose team helped St. Al by committing seven errors in the series. “We just didn’t do the things we did all year that got us here.”
After two quiet innings, St. Al tied the game with a pair of runs in the third and then blew it open with a five-run outburst in the fourth.
Blake Haygood brought in the go-ahead run with a fielder’s choice, and a bases-loaded walk to Stephen Evans made it 4-2. That brought catcher Sean Weaver, a five-year starter and one of only three seniors on the team, to the plate.
Weaver sent a sinking liner to center that West Union’s Dalton Harris dove for and missed. The ball rolled all the way to the warning track, allowing all three runners to score to make it 7-2. Weaver ended up at third with a triple that broke the Eagles’ backs.
“That was big,” Russell said. “I still thought if we could stop the bleeding then we had a shot. We just never could get it stopped.”West Union got out of the inning without further damage, but the result seemed academic. St. Al tacked on six more runs in the top of the fifth inning to make it 13-2, and won the game by the mercy rule.
As the countdown began to the final out, St. Al’s rowdy fans began the celebration. They clanged cowbells, sang and danced in the stands between innings and shook purple and gold pom-poms. About 1,000 of the estimated 1,200 fans in attendance wore St. Al’s colors, and they filled up nearly every section of seats on the right side of the first base line.
“The fan support we had this year has been unbelievable. I think it’s made all the difference for us,” Weaver said. “They can swing a game, and they’ve definitely done that all season long.
”The party continued long after the game. While awaiting Wilkerson’s postgame talk, Weaver laid on his belly and did a turf angel in right field. Later, he jokingly tried to smuggle away the championship trophy under his shirt. Even after most of the stadium had cleared out, fans lingered on the concourse an hour after the final out was recorded, not wanting the night to end.
The team itself lingered on the field for about 45 minutes, long enough for the grounds crew to finish its postgame work and the outfield sprinklers to kick on. The water doused players and coaches alike, but they didn’t seem to mind one bit.
“They could have dropped acid on us and I wouldn’t have realized it,” Wilkerson said with a wide smile. “I’m just caught up in the moment.”