(Michael Paradoski photo)
With everything the St. John Vianney High School baseball team had accomplished this spring — a 21-game win streak, being the state’s top-ranked team and earning a spot in national rankings — there was still one goal remaining.
Ultimately, it was the most important.
Coach Scott Brown’s Griffins went into the Class 5 championship game on Friday afternoon not only seeking to win the school’s third baseball state title but also the opportunity to be remembered forever.
That will be the case after Vianney overcame a rough start to defeat Columbia Hickman 8-2 at CarShield Field in O’Fallon, earning the program’s first state championship since 2006.
“This is something you deserve, but nobody’s going to give it to you,” Brown told his team on Friday morning. “You have to go out and earn it. But it’s something you deserve.”
The Griffins finished 37-2, setting a new school record for wins, and they did it in a way that was fitting for a team that went 69-9 over two seasons with two trips to the state semifinals — with contributions up and down the lineup, in the field and on the mound.
“We had a lot of good players and everybody along the way somewhere did something to really contribute,” Brown said. “That’s what makes it really special.”
Senior Andrew Keck and sophomore C.J. Cepicky each had two hits. Cepicky and seniors Anthony Altobella and Dominic Moro each drove in two runs. Keck, junior Nico Hagen and senior Luke Mann each scored twice. Freshman Brock Daniels blasted a monster home run, his second of the season.
Starting pitcher Mitchell O’Dekirk, a senior lefty, allowed two runs in the first inning but limited the damage from there. Left-handed reliever Noah Niznik, another senior, picked up his seventh win of the season after he tossed 4 1/3 scoreless innings. Senior right-hander Brendan May came on for the final out in the seventh inning.
"This team is really something special and one of the closest I’ve ever been a part of," Mann said. "We had a lot of returning players from last year’s third-place team and we all knew what it would take to get back here. We didn’t take the loss in the Final Four well last year and since that day our focus was to better ourselves every day. This group of guys put in the work, countless hours in the weight room and in the cages to get back to this goal. We were more of a family than past teams I’ve played on and we all knew we could count on each other in any situation. I’m proud of this team and everyone on it and I’m happy that it was this group of guys to bring it home."
“It’s unbelievable,” Keck said. “This group of seniors was such a special group. We had a goal and we did everything we possibly could to accomplish it. Being able to win this championship with this group means the world to me.”
The state title was the first for Brown, a 1984 Vianney alum who recently broke the school record for wins as a baseball coach and surpassed 500 wins for his long and distinguished coaching career.
“You know, 28 years ago I took over at CBC and I was always trying to justify myself,” Brown said. “I felt I always had something to prove. You come over to Vianney and you’re replacing a legend in Steve Bieser. He won two of these things and goes on to coach in college.
“I was always trying to prove that I at least belonged with those guys. And I don’t know if I do — I mean Steve’s awful good — but at least it makes me feel good that I brought something to the school that I know that every coach that goes out there and goes between the white lines wants to do that for the school, wants to do that for the kids. It definitely means an awful lot. The 500 is special — I’ll enjoy that later — but for this group of kids, to be able to bring it home for them, that was nice.”