Augusta seniors help baseball sweep Clearwater

Lionel Tipton
Augusta's Ryan Andrews bats in a game earlier this year.

AUGUSTA, Kansas—All they do is win.

The top of the lineup for Augusta’s baseball team includes three players who started on Orioles teams that made it to the Class 4A state playoffs in football and basketball.

After a doubleheader sweep Monday of Clearwater, the Orioles have a 12-4 record and are ranked ninth in the latest Kansas Association of Baseball Coaches poll. They are also ranked fifth in the KSHSAA 4A West Regional standings, trailing only Pratt, Buhler, McPherson and Clay Center.

Last Friday, the Orioles split a series at Buhler. 

The senior core features center fielder Jett Hand (also football quarterback and basketball guard), third baseman and cleanup hitter Ely Wilcox (football receiver and basketball forward) and second baseman Ryan Andrews (football running back and basketball guard). 

That’s a great group to have, Orioles coach Garan Qualls said. 

“They’re at the top of our order for a reason,” he said. “They get on base, (and) good things happen.

“They’re great athletes, but they’re better kids. I wouldn’t trade this group of kids for anything.”

The seniors are critical to his team’s success, Qualls said.

“They carry us,” he said. “They’ve carried pretty much every sport that they’ve participated in.” 

As cohesive a unit as they are on the field, regardless of the sport, they also think a lot alike – especially in terms of baseball, which they have played together for a number of years.

Hand said he realizes this is a special season.

“It feels good to have a lot of hard work pay off,” he said. “Just have everyone on the team working hard throughout the year, and then knowing that we’ve been grinding since our freshman year. 

“And now, we see everybody having success, and it’s so good to have that big senior class (which also includes football receiver/baseball outfielder Duke Licklyter; baseball designated hitter-pitcher/basketball guard-forward Xander Roberts; and football kicker/baseball outfielder Peyton Shupe).”

The team is peaking just when it should, Hand said.

“It’s a good time to get hot,” he said. “This time of year, we seem to keep it going.”

With just a lone home twin bill remaining, Thursday against fourth-ranked Circle (which is sixth in the KSHAA regional standings), the Orioles’ path remains difficult.

“We need to take care of business on Thursday,” Hand said, “then set ourselves up to host a regional.”

Wilcox said he’s glad to be a component of something so successful.

“It’s exciting,” he said. “We’ve got a special group of people. I’m just a small part in everything that’s going on around here (not too small; Wilcox stands 6-foot-5, 210 pounds). This senior class we’ve got, we’re special. We’ve been around for a long time playing sports with each other. We know how everything rolls.

“It’s just coming out here and having fun, and success follows.”

Andrews hurt his knee early in football season but often played through the pain using a brace. Going to state a third time this school year would be a thrill, he said.

“It’s just awesome,” Andrews said. “We just play all these sports with our friends, and people are going to be friends forever. We struggle sometimes, but we get hot when it matters. We put wins together, and we just play well in the end.”

Roberts, who played soccer in the fall, said the familiarity of being around each other helps.

“It means a lot for us, because we’ve been playing since … forever together,” he said.

Getting hot when it matters might be considered an Augusta “thing.” Only a few years ago, the Orioles weren’t given much of a shot against heavily favored Andover Central and upset the Jaguars, snagging the state tournament berth.

“It should be a good one on Thursday (against Circle),” Roberts said. “Senior Night? It should be a good one.”

Qualls agreed.

“Both teams will be ready to go; it’s going to be a dogfight,” he said. 

The Orioles had to slog through both games Monday against Clearwater. North winds steady at 17 mph kept all fly balls in the ballpark. So, consequently, the scores were low. Augusta took advantage of five Indians errors in winning the opener, 5-1, but managed just five hits in the game. 

In the nightcap, the Orioles prevailed 6-3, but they endured some anxious moments in the late innings before successfully beating back a Clearwater comeback attempt. Of Augusta’s 14 hits in the doubleheader, only a double by Wilcox in the nightcap went for extra bases.

Qualls said his team prepares for whatever wind confronts them.

“(Monday), we got here, hit BP on the field, and it was all oppo, all oppo, all oppo (opposite-field hits),” he said.