Stillwater players formed a happy heap after completing their run to the Class 4A title. (Cheryl A. Myers, SportsEngine)
For Farmington, a team with 16 seniors, 10 of whom played significant roles on the 2021 state champion team, winning a second straight Class 4A title seemed almost predetermined.
Stillwater, on the other hand, also had 16 seniors, but just three had varsity experience.
Baseball is not a game easily predetermined.
Stillwater rode timely hitting and strong starting pitching to an 8-1 victory over Farmington on Friday in the Class 4A state championship game at Target Field. It’s Stillwater’s second state title since 2018.
After significant losses from the 2021 team, including a pair of Division I players, Stillwater coach Mike Parker wasn’t sure what to expect from his team this year.
“Having 16 guys who’ve played together all their lives really means something,” Parker said. “Baseball is more of a team sport than people think. These guys accepted roles all year. They are an amazing team. We don’t have any Division I players out there, but a team can go out and win it.”
Parker has talked all season about seeking the perfect game. After hardscrabble victories in the first two games of the tournament, the Ponies (23-4) were nearly perfect in the final.
Starting pitcher Austin Buck spotted Farmington a run and two hits in the first inning, then shut down the powerful Tigers on two hits over the rest of the game. Buck struck out four, did not walk a batter and faced just 26 batters, five over the minimum.
“I’ve always felt that I pitch better under more pressure,” Buck said. “When I pitch my best, I know I can compete with anybody.”
As the game went along and Farmington (23-4) wasn’t making life tough on Buck, he said he felt his determination grow.
“Once I got through a couple innings and I got relaxed, I realized they had trouble hitting my fastball, so I got more and more confident,” Buck said.
Last season, center fielder Brayden Hellum took a photo of the scoreboard after the Ponies lost in the first round of the tournament, telling his teammates he was certain they would go further this season. How did he know?
“These boys you’re looking at did it. This is the hardest-working group of boys I’ve ever met in my life, and I wouldn’t trade them for the world,” said Hellum, who went 2-for-3 and paced an offense that pounded out eight hits and also benefited from five hit-by-pitches and four walks. “Every single one of these boys have given all the effort throughout the season, the offseason, everything. It wasn’t only a promise by me, it was a promise by our whole team. This is unbelievable. It’s just unbelievable.”