Millard Best

Wildcats defeat Patriots in thrilling championship game


Evan Vaslow

Senior Drew Borner celebrates his first inning run. The Cats erupted for an eight run first on their way to the state title. “I’ve never felt anything like it,” Borner said. “ It’s surreal and I still haven’t fully grasped it yet. This team battled adversity from the end of last year all the way to this final game. I love my boys.”

Evan Vaslow, MWHS Wildcat News co-Editor-in-Chief

For the third straight season, the State Championship game featured a rivalry between Millard West and South.

The Wildcats got off to a rough start in the first, as junior pitcher Drew Deremer walked the first batter he faced and got down 3-0 to the next. But, a pickoff from junior catcher Korey Cozad followed by a groundout and flyout got West out of the inning unscathed.

They used this momentum to explode in the bottom of the first. Senior Drew Borner led off the inning with a single. He advanced to second on a walk from sophomore Nick Venteicher, and third on a sacrifice bunt from Cozad. Both Borner and Venteicher scored on a 2-RBI double from senior Avery Moore. Senior Dylan Driessen kept the momentum going, driving in Avery Moore with a single. A walk from junior Peyton Moore had the Wildcats threatening again, and a home run from senior Rice Whitaker put them up 6-0 with only one out in the first. A triple from senior Maddux Fleck and a hit-by-pitch by senior AJ Tauber followed. Patriots’ pitcher Grant Renken was chased from the game after recording just one out. Eight earned runs would be charged to Renken. His replacement, Conlin Grady, had more success, getting out of the inning without allowing any runs of his own. After one long inning, the Wildcats controlled all the momentum with an 8-0 lead.

“The lead-off guy really sets the tone for everyone else,” Tauber said. “When Borner got on in the first inning we all knew we wanted to match that and get as many runs as possible.”

Deremer shut down the Patriots again in the top of the second. The Wildcat offense added to their tally in the bottom. A single from Fleck and an RBI triple from Tauber extended the lead to 9-0. 

Another quick inning from Deremer kept the Patriots scoreless and hitless through three. The bottom of the third was the first inning where West didn’t score, as they went 3-up, 3-down. 

The Patriots got to Deremer in the fourth with a leadoff triple. A single, walk, balk, error and two hit-by-pitchers later, the lead was cut to 9-4. It took work from Deremer and juniors Caleb Lanpheard and Brady Tate on the mound to get through the inning. Another 1-2-3 inning from West swung the momentum even further in South’s favor. 

Tate was pulled in the fifth after hitting a batter and giving up a single. Senior Tyler Spreitzer relieved him and gave up a 2-RBI single to Braden Canon. Another scoreless inning from West in the bottom half sent the game to the sixth, with the Wildcats clinging to a narrow 9-6 lead.

Sophomore Jackson Williams started the top of the sixth on the mound for West. After a pair of walks, he was replaced by Driessen. A hit batter loaded the bases for the Patriots with two outs. Driessen was one strike away from getting out of the inning but gave up a grand slam to Cam Kozeal, putting the Patriots on top for the first time in the game, 10-9. 

The Cats didn’t give up though. Cozad led off the inning with a single, and Avery Moore reached on a fielder’s choice. A walk from Driessen moved Avery Moore to second where he would score on a clutch RBI single from Whitaker. Driessen shut down the Patriots in the top of the seventh, sending the game to the bottom, tied 10-10. 

“Losing the lead was a little deflating, but you can’t just give up in a game like that,” Borner said. “Cozad, Avery and Driessen all came up huge by getting that tying run across.”

Senior AJ Tauber lines a ball over the left field wall. Tauber’s walk-off homerun came on the first pitch in the bottom of the seventh. “My mindset was to stay relaxed and have fun,” Tauber said. “To be a State champ and to have the countless hours of work put in together by all 27 of the guys made the feeling in the end just that much better. To see all of it come down to the wire really meant a lot.” (Evan Vaslow)

On the first pitch of the bottom of the seventh, Tauber sent a ball way over the left field fence, giving the Wildcats a thrilling victory. The team rushed the field and dog piled on Tauber at the plate rejoicing in the redemption from their State Championship loss last year.