Defend the title

Millard West looks to defend their State Championship after loss of 2020 season


Photo by Tenley Wright

Senior Corbin Hawkins pitching in a doubleheader against Grand Island on March 28, 2019. Millard West won both games by a combined 11-3 score. “The team morale is higher than ever,” Hawkins said. “We have some young guys and obviously some transfers who are eager to make an impact early. Most of these guys have not played in a spring game in over a year, so naturally everyone is antsy to get this season rolling.”

Jonathan Willis, Striv Executive Producer

May 17, 2019. That is a date that will forever live in the minds of every Millard West Baseball player, coach, fan and parent. That was the day that the Wildcats won their first ever State Championship, taking down their district rival and seven time state champion, Millard South. May 17 is also the last time that team saw the diamond as the 2020 spring season was cancelled because of COVID-19. 

Now, in 2021, a different looking team is on a mission to defend their state title from two years ago. 

The 2021 varsity baseball team lost some key contributors this past season including Nebraska freshman Max Anderson (who won Nebraska State Gatorade Player of the Year in 2020), Cal State Fullerton freshman Tristan Gomes, University of New Mexico freshman Jackson Meier, Southeast Community College freshman Seth Claybourne and more. 

“With Max and Tristan graduating, we lost a lot of leadership and experience,” senior Carter Betts said. “However, there have been guys that have stepped up and filled the leadership roles that those seniors had last year.”

Even with the loss of some seniors, the 2021 lineup is still loaded with talent from top to bottom. On the pitching side of things, Nebraska commit and senior Corbin Hawkins has been an up and coming player and dominated in legion baseball over the summer. Juniors Mason Koch and Jaxson Cahoy are younger pitchers who have been grabbing attention around the metro for the improvements in their arm. They have both worked hard in the offseason, playing for Nebraska Prospects over the summer and have improved their pitching, with their fastball hovering in the late 80’s. 

“My goal as a teammate is to leave a legacy of hard work and family that these guys will carry down for years,” Hawkins said. “I’m just looking to play the best baseball possible and get myself and my teammates ready to play at the next level.”

On the hitting side, Millard West is making some changes to their mentality. In years past, the Wildcats have been more of a power hitting team, with players like Anderson and Gomes. Now, after losing those seniors, the Cats are looking to put an emphasis on their speed this year while focusing on getting on base and advancing runners. West has multiple players who have a 40 yard dash time under five seconds, including junior AJ Tauber and Betts. Betts had a .563 on base percentage which is exactly what the Wildcats are looking for this year: get on base and move the line. Junior Avery Moore is another player who started producing a lot in his sophomore season. He hit .267 in legion ball over the summer and is looking to take an even bigger step this year. Senior Ty Kalb is a great power hitter, batting .385 over the summer with 7 RBI’s. 

“A couple years ago we had guys that could maybe pop one out,” head coach Steven Frey said. “We’re definitely a lot more speed based this year, so I expect singles to turn into doubles and a lot of stolen bases so it’s more of a speed type team. We have a bit more depth this year than we did two years ago.”

The Wildcats have a lot of away games on the schedule this year. They will kick off the year in Kansas with a double header against Blue Valley and Mill Valley on March 18. They then come back to the metro to play some conference games against Lincoln Northeast and Papillion La Vista, and start their home slate against Bellevue East on March 24. Some other notable games on the schedule are when they play Lee’s Summit West from Missouri on March 29, who are one of the top teams in the state and a team that the Wildcats haven’t played often. The day after, they will face off against Omaha Skutt Catholic, a class B team who has been dominant in recent years.  They will face Millard South on April 13, in a rematch of the 2019 State Championship, a game the Wildcats took in an eleven inning thriller. They finish out with some games against multiple tough opponents in Millard North, Bellevue West and Creighton Prep. 

“I’m looking forward to opening the season with 2 games in Kansas City,” Betts said. “We get to travel down there in a charter bus and play some high-level competition against teams that we have never played before. As a team, we’re looking forward to squaring off against the other Millard schools, as it always creates some memorable games.”

One thing that will help the Wildcats is a few transfers obtained over the offseason. Juniors Maddux Flek, Devin Jones and Drew Borner are all great players all of whom transferred from Creighton Prep. Flek and Jones are both committed to play baseball at Creighton University. Millard West also added junior transfer Nate Wulf from Millard South, who will add more talent to an already stacked pitching rotation for the Wildcats. 

“They’re really good baseball players and they fit in well with the team,” Frey said. “They didn’t come in expecting to start right away, they worked really hard to earn their spot and I’ve seen a lot of growth from all of them.”

The Wildcats have a lot of great seniors with Hawkins, Kalb, Betts, Tyler Merkel, Cade Owens, Kael Dumont and more.The main goal of course for this team is to bring home their second state title. Millard West is looking to send those seniors off the right way by bringing home another state trophy. 

“I think we still have a few people that need to buy into everything coach Frey has in our agenda,” Hawkins said. “Having only half the guys left that played in that state tournament, I think we still have some maturing to do as a team, but when that happens, I think we can make another run at this thing.”

Millard West is well set up this year for a title run with strong arms, bullpen depth, fast players and solid hitting. This team will be hard to stop this year as they look to dominate their way through the 2021 season.