CHS baseball Hornets honored for solid year, strong finish

Paul Sturm
Chillicothe News
Five 2021 Chillicothe High School baseball players – only four of whom were present – were selected for team honors by head coach Joshua Lisle and his staff after the recent district-title-winning season. From left, junior Brock Ward was named offensive player of the year, junior Gage Leamer rookie of the year, senior Mason Baxter most valuable player, and sophomore Griff Bonderer defensive player of the year.

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

A mixed bag of a 2021 season of Chillicothe High School baseball which produced a historically-successful ending was reviewed, honored, and celebrated in a low-key, relatively-brief postseason awards event June 10 at the Chillicothe United Methodist Church fellowship hall.

In their first season under the oversight of head coach Joshua Lisle, the 2021 baseball Hornets started fast, plummeted, and then rose like a phoenix to claim only the second district championship and appearance in state tournament competition in the program’s quarter-century of existence.

Grouped in Class 4 District 15 with four other schools which had competed against each other, but not CHS, during the regular season, the Hornets’ mid- and late-season downturn after a 6-2 start to the campaign led to them being seeded last in the district tournament.

That meant they – or opening foe Richmond – would need to win three times to claim the crown, while top seed Odessa, No. 2 Excelsior Springs, and No. 3 Oak Grove would require only two victories to move on to state.

Richmond, Odessa and Excelsior Springs ended up not winning any and Oak Grove only one.

With a 5-4 9-innings triumph over Richmond in the quarterfinals, a 7-4 upset of Odessa in the semifinals, and a 2-1 nailbiter over Oak Grove, Chillicothe both captured the district title and state-tourney berth and squared its record at 12-12 entering state play.

In the first round of Class 4 state competition, the Hornets fell to Midland Empire Conference rival and eventual state third-place finisher St. Joseph: Lafayette 8-1.

Their closing mark of 12-13 ironically repeated the program’s first state-qualifying season 16 years earlier. Under original baseball Hornets head coach Dave Mapel, the 2005 squad had a 13-15 final record after losing to St. Joseph: Benton in the sectional round of state play.

In addition to their postseason heroics, the 2021 Hornets also used their strong start to the season and a big late-season win over Savannah to tie SHS’ Savages for third place in the league’s final standings.

Five of the MEC’s eight teams won district championships with league champ Kansas City: St. Pius X going on to claim the Class 3 state title and Lafayette taking third in Class 4.

Five 2021 Chillicothe High School baseball Hornets were chosen for conference or regional postseason honors after their district-championship-winning season. From left, senior Tucker Wagers, junior Brock Ward, junior Gage Leamer, senior Mason Baxter, and sophomore Landon Winder were CHS selections for the all-Class 4 District 15 Tournament team. Baxter and Ward also were voted by other Midland Empire Conference member teams' coaches to the all-MEC second team at pitcher and catcher, respectively, while Winder and Leamer received all-conference honorable mention.

At the June 10 awards event, Lisle formally presented postseason honors to multiple players, honors accorded from both within and without the program.

Voted – by other coaches in the conference – to the all-Midland Empire Conference second team were senior pitcher Mason Baxter and junior catcher Brock Ward.

Gaining honorable mention in the all-MEC balloting were junior infielder Gage Leamer and sophomore infielder Landon Winder.

For winning the district title, the Hornets were awarded five slots on the all-district tournament team chosen by participating coaches on behalf of the Missouri High School Baseball Coaches Association.

Tabbed to fill those slots were seniors Tucker Wagers and Baxter, juniors Ga. Leamer and Ward, and sophomore Winder.

The team awards event also featured Lisle’s non-surprising announcement of pitcher/infielder Baxter as the 2021 team’s “most valuable player” award recipient.

Offensively, he batted .338 with team highs of 24 runs scored and 24 bases on balls drawn. On the mound, he posted a 4-3 won-lost record with a 3.84 earned run average.

Named “offensive player of the year” was Ward, who pounded the ball at a team-high .395 clip with club-mosts of 30 hits and 21 runs batted in.

“Defensive player of the year” was outfielder/first baseman Griff Bonderer, who was charged with only three errors in 47 total chances.

Ga. Leamer was tabbed as “rookie of the year” after posting a 5-4 pitching mark and driving in 16 runs, second-highest total on the team, while seeing position time at second and third base, shortstop, and catcher, in addition to appearing on the mound.

Selected as the program’s “freshman of the year” was Ga. Leamer’s younger brother Grant, who played extensively in the outfield during the injury absence of sophomore Max Wagers. The younger Leamer often was batted for by a designated hitter, but did get two hits in seven varsity at-bats, scoring twice and driving in a pair of runs.