It’s a sunny day on the verge of summer and Hickman students have just been dismissed from school. While most are leaving campus with their car windows down and music blasting, a group of young men wearing purple and white uniforms assemble on Hickman’s baseball field.
Some members of the Kewpies’ baseball team are talking and laughing with each other while others playfully roughhouse as they wait for practice to begin. The level of enthusiasm escalates as “District Champions” T-shirts are distributed to the team.
Though the mood soon shifts from elation to intense focus, the sense of pride visibly stays with the team. Heads are held high during running, stretching and the team meeting.
No one expected the Kewpies (13-10) to make it to the playoffs, but they did. Though the Kewpies were seeded fifth in district play, they emerged as Class 4 District 10 champion with a 10-2 victory over Helias on Thursday in Jefferson City. As a result, the Kewpies have secured a spot in state sectional semifinals.
Comprised of five seniors, three juniors and 16 sophomores, the team has a drastically different makeup than last years’ state championship team.
With only two returning varsity players, Casey McIntosh and Jeff Johanningmeier, leadership from upper classmen became a key factor in the Kewpies’ success this season.
“It helps to have seniors on the team,” said coach Dave Wilson at the team practice Tuesday.
One senior who has been an instrumental for the Kewpies is Casey McIntosh (5-2), the starting pitcher for today’s sectional game.
“He’s a good leader to look up to,” Wilson said.
McIntosh’s season-long role as a positive influence and leader focused on working hard while enjoying the sport of baseball.
“Most people didn’t expect us to be here, but I think we deserve to be here,” McIntosh said. “We are just trying to have fun and play baseball now that we’re here.”
Though he admits to being a team leader, McIntosh also credits the other their leadership roles on the team.
“I think all five are leaders,” he said. “Rod (Williams) jumped in the huddle after the Jeff City game and said he wanted to practice the next day. He really stepped up. Jeff (Johanningmeier) too. All the seniors really stepped up.”
Strong leadership, personalized coaching, and determination has landed the Kewpies in position to potentially bring a second-consecutive state championship to Hickman. “The team has started to gain some chemistry in the end,” Wilson said. “It’s what carries you.”
Today is the first meeting between the Kewpies and the Fort Zumwalt South Bulldogs (20-6).
“They have a great program,” Wilson said. “They are well coached and are in a great conference. We know we’re going to play a good baseball team.”
As for the Kewpies’ morale, spirits are high.
“They are excited,” Wilson said. “We are in a tough district which prepared us for the upcoming game.”
Amid the pre-practice enthusiasm exhibited by his teammates, McIntosh assured focus when game day arrives.
“We take it seriously when it comes down to it,” he said.
The sectional semifinal game will be played at 5 p.m. today at Hickman.