Andover Central baseball has right chemistry for first regional title since 2016

Charles Chaney
Butler County Times Gazette

ANDOVER, Kansas — Chemistry is talked about in all successful teams. If you're fighting with one another, you're usually not rooting for everyone to succeed. It's often about the "me" and not the "we" when that happens.

For the Andover Central baseball team, that would be the furthest thing when it comes to this team, and it showed as they had to overcome a scrappy Salina South team and then turn around and beat Goddard in the title game only a few hours later.

"It's hard to stay away from these guys," Central Head Coach Grant Bacon said. "I'd like to give them multiple days off in a row, but they're just so much fun to be around."

What does that mean though? Most coaches say that about their kids, but something rings different when the Jaguars celebrated their first regional title since 2016 and the first time since moving to 5A.

"We're hard on each other but we uplift each other," senior catcher Matt Buffington said. "It's how I show I care. We want everyone to be the best they can be."

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With two days in between a 2-0 deficit from Salina South, the Jaguars had plenty of time to ponder what their best would be. Jacob Horn mowed down Salina South and others took care of the work at the bat as Central made their way into the finals by beating out throws and limiting mistakes by doing the little things right. 

You saw that in the 6-1 win over Goddard as the Jaguars were facing momentum building against them. Senior Rece Wilson ran through a tag by Goddard's Tyler Haskell, jarring the ball loose. Two runs would score, creating insurance runs and silencing any Goddard come-back victory.

"It's instinct," Wilson said of the play. "I just knew if I ran as hard as I could like coach tells us to do, it would knock the ball out."

Wilson also pitched five innings, striking out six and scatting four hits.

"I love that my coach has confidence in me," Wilson said. "He has confidence in every single pitcher on our team."

With Jacob Horn and Wilson throwing heat on the mound, it limits what opponents can do at the plate. 

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"We just have such a great group of guys who support us," Horn said. "I really look up to Buff [Matt Buffington] and Bryce Naipohn. I can get in my head a lot and he [Bryce] does a good job of being there for me."

Whether it's sophomores like Horn or seniors like Easton Elliott, the Jaguars feel they have been overlooked in spite of the 19-game winning streak. It may be because the Jaguars aren't run-ruling every team on the schedule. Nine of their 21 wins have come by two runs or less. They only have five run-rule wins this season.

"We're grinding out at bats with the guys and making plays with good pitching," Elliot said. "That's the key to our success."

Grinding out hits, like running out what should have been a routine tag. Turning double plays off line drives that where the base runner was caught napping or catching a runner running too aggressively and gets caught in a run down. 

It's all simple, fundamental baseball the Jaguars do well. 

"That's defensive pitching and timely hitting," Bacon said. "We did all of that today and I'm proud of them." 

With the Jaguars having a bullseye on their back with their win streak, it's nothing they haven't dealt with all season. 

"I love it," Elliot said. "We just take it one game at a time and it gives us confidence teams try and beat us because we're winning."

When it's essentially two years since anyone has seen anyone play ball, it's easy for opposing teams or coaching staffs to think you're not as good as your record. The Jaguars aren't biting.

"We heard that teams think we're overrated or not as good as our record," Elliot said. "We don't really listen to that and we just go out and play our game."

They've played it right into the No. 1 seed in next week's Class 5A state tournament at Wichita State's Eck Stadium.

"I love Wichita State," Wilson said. "The crowd was great tonight. I cannot wait to see what the crowd is like next week."

Charles Chaney has been the Sports Editor for the Butler County Times-Gazette since Aug. 2019. You can reach him at cchaney@butlercountytimesgazette.com or on Twitter at @ChuckChaneyBCTG.