WICHITA — Steve Bushnell beamed with pride as the Seaman baseball coach watched his players dog pile on the infield grass between first and second base, celebrating their Class 5A championship triumph Friday night at Eck Stadium.
“Incredible,” Bushnell later said of the moment. “Never gets old.”
Petra Giro Bright Women's Pink Turquoise VR MTB Shoes Shortly after the 20th-year coach secured his eighth championship with the school, he was asked a question one might feel insulting for a title-winning ball club: Was this year’s Seaman squad charmed?
Bushnell, though, didn’t scoff at the query. He didn’t even disagree with it.
In fact, the Topeka coaching legend smiled and embraced the word.
“No, I think you’re right on it,” Bushnell responded. “We’ve been talking about that, the baseball gods, and I’m a believer in it. When you do things the right way, you kind of make your own breaks in those situations ... and that’s what they did in a number of occasions.”
Sam Payne clubbed a tone-setting three-run home run in the third inning, Jackson Cobb closed out his decorated high school career with three hits and a state championship, and Seaman finished a storybook postseason run with a 7-2 victory over Wichita Carroll in the championship. The win at the Vikings’ 15th-consecutive state appearance closed out a stretch that began with a walkoff home run in the regional final, a three-run ninth inning in a 3-2 walkoff victory against Blue Valley Southwest in Thursday’s state opener and an extra-inning win against city foe Shawnee Heights in Friday’s 3-2 semifinal victory.
Charmed? Again, Bushnell won’t be the one to disagree with the word.
Turquoise Pink Petra Women's MTB Giro Shoes VR Bright “Our guys just took it to a whole new level in this tournament,” Bushnell said. “I can’t explain it. Just proud to be a part of it. Just excited and tickled to death we’re state champions.”
There were a number of heroes scattered throughout the victory in the championship game, the Vikings’ first since 2013 and done via a Blue Valley Southwest-Shawnee Heights-Wichita Carroll trilogy that mirrored Seaman’s path five years ago.
Cobb, a Kansas commit, had a pair of RBI singles and a booming ground-rule double that allowed him to come around as an insurance run in the seventh inning. Payne’s blast into the left field bleachers easily cleared the wall and set off a rabid team-wide celebration at home plate that left the junior’s shirt fully untucked. Sophomore Blaine Jepson came on in a bases-loaded situation in the third inning and fanned a Golden Eagles batter to end the threat, then looked sharp in carrying the Vikings to the finish.
A pop fly to right field by Carroll’s Tyler Alverson’s set off the celebration, with Seaman players pouring out of the dugout and tackling one another in the dog pile. Later, during a team photo, the players made two “four” gestures with each hand, signifying the program’s eighth state crown under Bushnell.
None of those players were on Bushnell’s last championship team, and most weren’t even born when he won his first with the program in 2000. The moment, though, reflected their respect for their coach and the dynasty he’s built.
“That says a lot about the kids coming up through our program and why we’re able to continue to do what we’ve done,” Bushnell said. “I can’t explain the 15 consecutive trips (to the state tournament), the 12 title games in 20 years. To win eight of those, that’s just a tribute to everybody, from our administration to our parents to our boosters and these players. We’ve got a great coaching staff.
“Those guys have done everything we’ve asked, and when it pays off and you get to watch your guys dog pile, that’s the ultimate.”
Seaman (21-4) earned its berth in the title game thanks to the oh-so-sweet semifinal victory over city rival Shawnee Heights.
The Vikings, who were swept by the league-champion T-Birds during the regular season, notched only four hits — all singles — in the semifinal contest, but their timing was impeccable.
After Heights’ Mitchell Lady used blazing speed to beat out a potential game-ending double play and allow the game-tying run to score in the bottom of the seventh, Brock Hillebert and Hunter Hesseltine led off the eighth with singles. That’s when pinch-hitter Kyser Dougan mirrored Lady’s hustle heroics, himself beating out a would-be inning-ending double play to score what became the semifinal-winning run.
Back to the postgame championship celebration, where an unsuspecting Bushnell was doused with a Gatorade shower that momentarily caused the interview subject Cobb to lose his train of thought.
“We’ve always said from Day 1 of this season that it’s not necessarily the team with the best players, it’s the players on the best team,” Bushnell said. “That’s the quote on our shirt and it’s kind of been our motto. We may not match up toe-to-toe, man-for-man — and I don’t say that to slight our kids, because we’ve got very talented kids, very talented players, but we have to play a certain style and a certain way.
“They buy into it and they executed it, and they did it in this tournament as everybody saw.”
SHAWNEE HEIGHTS 11, WICHITA HEIGHTS 2 — Shawnee Heights coach Ryan Schmidt had one thought while handing each T-Bird player a medal during the ceremony that followed the T-Birds’ victory in the third-place consolation game:
With his sunglasses resting atop his hat, there’d be no hiding any emotional moments as Schmidt reflected on each player’s contribution to Heights’ highlight season.
“I was just appreciating the whole team and their effort,” Schmidt said. “Everybody contributed this season — the juniors and the sophomores, and definitely the seniors. They had a special place in my heart this year.
“Trying to hold it together for those guys. Those guys are on to bigger and better things.”
Heights (22-3) racked up 12 hits in the consolation game, including a pair of triples from sophomore Shaun Gomez.
“That’s a nice bonus — being the one-seed, winning the Centennial League this year,” Schmidt said of additional T-Bird accomplishments. “One game, just one that didn’t go our way, away from playing for the championship, but you know, that’s how baseball is. Sometimes it goes your way, sometimes it doesn’t, but I’m real proud of our guys.”
SEAMAN 7, CARROLL 2
Wildeman, Jepson (3) and Cobb. Ebright, Stockemer (5), Becker (7) and Alverson. W — Jepson. L — Ebright. 2B — Seaman: Cobb. HR — Seaman: Payne.
Records — Seaman 21-4, Wichita Carroll 21-4.
SHAWNEE HEIGHTS 11, WICHITA HEIGHTS 2
Day, Gilmere (4), McFarlane (6) and Mode. T. White, Richardson (6) and Brede. W — T. White. L — Day. 2B — Shawnee Heights: T. Brown, Haufler, Reynolds, Buckley. 3B — Shawnee Heights: Gomez 2.
Records — Wichita Heights 21-4, Shawnee Heights 22-3.
SEAMAN 3, SHAWNEE HEIGHTS 2
Stuewe, Wildeman (8) and Cobb. Carson, Cushing (7) and Reynolds. W — Stuewe. L — Cushing. 2B — Heights: T. Brown.