There aren’t that many firsts yet to be had at St. Francis Borgia Regional.
The baseball Knights checked one more box off the list Friday at CarShield Field in O’Fallon when they defeated Westminster Christian Academy, 13-1, in the Class 4 State Championship game.
The win gives Borgia its first team championship since the 2013 Class 3 girls volleyball season and the 21st team state championship in school history across all sports.
“It’s pretty crazy,” senior Louie Eckelkamp said. “I’ve been a part of 10 Borgia sports teams at this point and to finally go all the way — it’s something that you talk about as a kid, growing up and going to Borgia grade school. I always knew I was going to grow up and play football and baseball for Borgia High School. We always dreamed of winning a state championship, so to actually do it is pretty special.”
The Knights had come close to a baseball championship in the past, finishing second in the state in 1957 and 1975, and were eliminated in the semifinals in 1976, but the 2019 championship was the program’s first.
“This is just a great feeling,” senior Joe Schmidt said during the postgame celebration. “We’ve taken a couple of second places, but we haven’t been back since (the 1970s). It’s a great feeling to finally be here and break through that barrier and bring home a championship. It hasn’t fully hit me yet. Everything is just moving really fast right now and I’m just trying to keep up.”
Borgia, seen as an underdog by many, set the tone early by capitalizing on three Westminster errors in the third inning to take a commanding 7-0 lead.
“I’ve been telling everybody that I couldn’t be more proud of this team and I am,” Borgia Head Coach Rob Struckhoff said. “We talk about Borgia baseball being a family. Borgia is family. We’re a family and we support each other. There’s no egos out there. They all just play baseball and it was just — what a run. These guys – what an outstanding group of young men.”
Borgia didn’t let up with a 7-0 lead, backing junior Bryce Mayer’s pitching performance with another run in the fifth inning and five more runs in the seventh to make it 13-0.
Westminster came into the bottom of the sixth inning in need of four runs to prolong the game and prevent losing to the Knights by the mercy rule.
The Wildcats managed just one run, losing the most lopsided Class 4 final since 2015 when Cape Notre Dame routed Sullivan, 17-0.
“To win on a run rule in the state championship is a pretty big deal,” Eckelkamp said. “We hadn’t played Westminster in baseball in a long time. We thought it was going to be a pretty good game and it was. Things just went our way and to be able to win the way we did is pretty awesome.”
The Knights executed their game plan by keeping the ball in play and Westminster obliged their efforts with four total errors in the contest.
Borgia turned in a clean defensive effort behind Mayer, who faced just five batters above the minimum required to get through the full six innings.
“We knew that we just had to play our game,” Eckelkamp said. “We didn’t need to try to do anything extra. If we played our best game, which I think we probably played our best game of the year, then we didn’t think there was anybody in the state that would beat us. That was our mindset and we executed when we had to and it ultimately worked out.”
The lopsided victory in the state championship game finished off a playoff run that saw Borgia come from behind to knock off perennial state contender Lutheran South in the sectional round, then eliminate Sikeston in the quarterfinals and Helias Catholic in the semifinals.
The other three teams in the 2019 semifinals — Helias, Westminster and Savannah — were all ranked among the top four teams in the state in the final Missouri High School Baseball Coaches Association poll on May 10.
Borgia was not ranked and was the very last team on the list of those that also received votes.
“We knew we could compete,” Struckhoff said. “We knew our lineup was just as good and it was going to come down to a pitching duel and it turned out Bryce (Mayer) just did a great job out there. He was the better pitcher today.”
Borgia reached the state playoffs by winning the Class 4 District 4 Tournament, defeating Owensville and Union in the process. It was Borgia’s first district championship since 2011.
Two of the teams Borgia eliminated in the 2019 playoff run, Westminster and Lutheran South, had previously denied the Knights a district title in recent years. Borgia finished second to Westminster in Class 4 District 4 during the 2013 season with Westminster scoring the deciding run on the final at-bat. Lutheran South topped Borgia in the Class 4 District 3 championship game in 2018.
With 23 wins, the 2019 Knights posted the highest recent win total for the program since a 22-5 season in 2011.