For Ouachita Christian’s 10-deep senior class, Monday’s 7-1 victory over Opelousas Catholic for the Division IV state championship was the perfect ending.
Coach John Parker said last week that the Eagles’ lofty standards were set long ago (the program captured its first state title in 1987 under longtime coach Micah Harper). When Parker discusses the standard with future teams, he can now include the Class of 2019. Closing out the season on a 23-game winning streak, this senior class has set the bar mighty high.
“We have tried to live up the standard for the last four years,” said senior lefty Ty Pankey, who closed out the state championship game with four near-perfect innings of scoreless relief. “Hopefully, our leadership will carry over so they can do the same thing next year.”
Senior catcher Clint Hargrave set the tone for the Eagles in the first inning. Stepping to the dirt with two outs and the bases empty, Hargrave punished the left field scoreboard with a solo shot for the game’s first run.
“I’ve been to Sulphur three years in a row, and I said I wanted to hit one in the semifinals or the championship game,” said Hargrave, who helped the Eagles to a state runner-up finish in 2017 and a semifinal appearance in 2018. “It’s unreal to do something like this in the state championship game and give us the lead in the first inning. To be able to cap it off like this is amazing. This is something I’ll never forget.”
Besides being one of the Eagles’ most productive hitters from the No. 3 slot, Hargrave has been stellar behind the plate. Monday was no exception as two of his classmates, right-hander Seth Traweek and lefty Pankey, limited the Vikings to three hits and six baserunners.
“For Seth to come back after everything he’s been through, I couldn’t be happier for him. Nobody deserves it more,” Hargrave said. “Both of our losses in Sulphur the last two years had his name on them. For him to be able to come back and get the win in the state championship game is really a storybook ending.”
Making his way back from Tommy John surgery, Traweek made his season debut in the Eagles’ 9-3 quarterfinal series-clinching victory over Sacred Heart two weeks ago.
“It was tough when the season started and all I could do was watch,” Traweek admitted. “I’ve been busting my butt the past 10 months to get back out there the last half of the season.”
Placed on a strict pitch count, Traweek threw 63 pitches (he was scheduled for 65) before handing the ball over to Pankey with the Eagles up 6-1 in the top of the fourth.
“Being out there with all my brothers in the state championship game was an unbelievable experience,” Traweek said. “To be able to pitch in the state championship game and win it, that was the best way to go out.”
Coming off of a complete game effort in the Eagles’ 3-1 semifinal victory over Central Catholic, Pankey was summoned from the bullpen Monday.
“When we came off the field in the semifinals, coach Parker said, ‘If it rains, like they are say are saying it is, you are probably going to have to pitch again. I said, ‘Yes sir, I will.’”
It rained — a lot — and Pankey was ready to go Monday. By the time he was handed the ball, the Eagles had the game well in hand.
“I was real relaxed because I knew we had the game in the bag,” Pankey said. “I was able to get in a rhythm because I knew (the state championship) was going to happen.”
Did Pankey ever get into a rhythm. Benefitting from two double plays, he was credited with 12 outs while facing 11 batters. Fittingly, shortstop Crew Wilson, second baseman Connor Mulhern and first baseman Dale Fulmer turned a game-ending double play on the final pitch of Pankey’s career.
Ouachita Christian’s senior class closes the book on its career with a 23-game winning streak. Of course, Monday’s victory was the sweetest of all.
“We didn’t really talk about the streak during the season,” Pankey said. “Now that it’s over with, it’s been pretty amazing. It’s a heck of a way to go out.”
For the Eagles’ 10 seniors, it was the perfect ending.