Top-ranked Ellington baseball ready for final four
ELLINGTON — By advancing to the MSHSAA Class 2 semifinals, Ellington has already done what no other team in program history has done before.
The Whippets want more, though. They want to bring home a championship. They’ve held the top spot in the Missouri High School Baseball Coaches Association rankings since April 12, so a first-place finish would come as no surprise for a community that has never seen its team reach the final four until this season.
The community has come out in full force to support the Whippets through this run. Everywhere they go, the players say they get recognized and congratulated for what they’ve done this year, which is win. Go to a game in Ellington and you’d be hard-pressed to get anywhere outside of the field without having to walk onto the street because it’s so packed.
“We just know that the community is really behind this team,” Ellington coach Jake Hime said. “First final four team in Ellington history, so the whole community is excited to be here. A member of our booster club who’s been a long time Whippet fan — her name is Cindy Gastineau — she’s really been pushing for this team to get to state. She said, ‘Jake, I’m getting old, you need to get me to the final four.’ So I’m just glad we can get her there, and that goes for everybody.”
The players have made that a reality for their fans. For seniors like Will Copeland, the reality set in that the team had made history the moment the Whippets beat Chaffee in the quarterfinals.
“It really set in just the moment it happened,” Copeland said. “It’s wild. We’ve got the whole town behind us, and we’re excited.”
Ellington is 27-1 this season and has won 38 of its last 39 games dating back to the fall season. The Whippets’ lone loss this spring came against Class 4 Kennett. In close games, Ellington always finds a way to come out on top.
The Whippets are 9-0 in one-run games this season, including a come-from-behind, walk-off win in the Class 2 sectionals against Portageville, a game in which the Whippets trailed 4-3 in the bottom of the seventh with two outs.
“We usually get up the most when we’re in tight games,” senior Kaleb Richards said. “When teams get jawing back and forth, we like that a lot, so that’s usually when we get runs across the plate.”
“All of those close games have prepared us for moments like this because we always rally together at the end,” said sophomore center fielder Carson McNail. “The game’s not over until the final out is thrown, so we just really rally and go for it.”
Defensively, the team’s success starts with its pitching. Of the five players who have seen time on the mound, senior Kaleb Richards holds the highest ERA on the team at 2.32. Richards has struck out 98 batters and allowed 19 walks in 72 1/3 innings on the mound this season.
Then you add Cameron Brewer to the equation and it’s even easier to see why the team allows 1.9 runs per game. Brewer has pitched 41 innings, fanned 60 and walked 10. His ERA is 0.85.
“I just have a lot of confidence in all of them. We go through stuff every day in practices. And we’ve always had confidence in each other, but if a kid makes a good play like ( McNail) did the other day, we feed off of that, you know, we feed off of that and keep going. If someone makes a mistake, we pick them up and say get the next one.”
Not only do Brewer and Richards help anchor the team on defense, but they get the job done at the plate, too. Richards is the team’s leader in batting average at .477, while Brewer’s average is .467. The duo account for two of the team’s six players batting over .400. The Whippets’ efficiency at the plate has helped them produce 7.3 runs per game this season.
Ellington will face Skyline at 4 p.m. on Wednesday at CarShield Field in O’fallon, Missouri. The Tigers come in at 21-7, giving up 3.9 runs per game and putting 6.9 on the board.
The Whippets try not to get too hung up on their opponents’ numbers. They prepare to play the game how they want it played. Hime believes not focusing too much on who they’re playing can keep the players from overthinking while they’re on the field.
“It’s like I tell the boys with a high school scouting report, there’s not much you can get from it,” Hime said. “You might be able to know they’ve had a couple talented arms or maybe they play solid defense, but as far as 1-9 in the lineup, we’re just going to go out and execute our pitch.
“High school kids are going to be high school kids ... We’ve got a couple of kids that do overthink it all the time. They want to know what’s going on or who does this or who they’ve played, and a lot of times that really doesn’t matter as much.”
For Ellington, the only thing that matters at this point is winning two more games, and that challenge begins on Wednesday.