The Millard South Class of 22 seniors celebrate their American Division state title over Elkhorn North.
The Millard South Class of ’22 seniors celebrate their American Division state title over Elkhorn North.
Ally Seevers

State championship title marks the end of an era

With the swing of a bat and the roar of the crowd, it seemed like Millard West had ended the Patriots’ run to a back-to-back state championship title. Little did they know, they became the catalyst that propelled them to their first American Legion state title in over 20 years.

“Losing in the final was a big motivation for our guys going into the summer,” head coach, Greg Geary, said. “It was a tough loss. I know it was hard on them, but they set out on a mission to come back.”

While the team couldn’t finish what they set out to do in the regular season, they turned their heartbreak into motivation, pushing one another to become the best they could be.

“After that loss against Millard West, we decided as a team, ‘Let’s stick together. Let’s all play Legion baseball and go out there and win a championship,’ ” senior Cam Kozeal said, “and that’s what we did.”

The team went 28 and 9 during the summer to earn their spot in the American Division final. There, they defeated Elkhorn North 6 to 5, punching their ticket to the state final against Creighton Prep.

“Going into the game, I definitely felt nervous,” senior Conlin Grady said. “They [Creighton Prep] had gotten the best of me before that game, so to go out there and pitch good, it put a lot of confidence into our play. They felt like a rival by the end of the year, so to get it done, especially on the biggest stage, it felt great.”

With strike-outs at the mound from both Grady and fellow senior Grant Renken, combined with a two-run double into left field from Braden Cannon, now a freshman at Wayne State, the Patriots outscored the Bluejays 4-3 to bring home the 2022 American Legion State Championship title.

“Winning that game felt amazing,” Renken said. “Being on the mound and throwing the last pitch, then getting to celebrate with my team, it felt good. We worked so hard the whole summer to get there, so to win and have the opportunity to play at regionals made all the time we put in worth it.”

Along with the title of Legion state champs came a spot in the Central Plains Regional Tournament. At the tournament, the Patriots won their first two games, but then lost to Creighton Prep, who also qualified for the tournament. After barely surviving past the St. Micheal Mikes, the Patriots needed to defeat the Jr. Jays twice in order to win the regional championship.

“All of us were very confident in our abilities going into the final,” senior Max Heard said. “We knew what type of team they were and we knew what we were capable of. Going into that final game, we had the momentum coming off that first win. We thought we were going to take it home, so to lose, it was hard.”

With a perfect performance at the mound from Cannon, the team defeated Creighton Prep 9-3 to push the Jays to a winner-takes-all game, but Prep prevailed, defeating the Pats 7-3 to win the title.Although the Patriots weren’t able to continue their run, they walked away with a state championship title and an experience of a lifetime.

“The trip to regionals was super fun,” Grady said. “Being with my teammates for a whole week, playing with last year’s seniors one last time, it is something I will never forget.”

With the finishing of the summer season comes the end of an era as Brian Duensing has decided to step down as the sponsor for the 52s. After 10 years as the Omaha Fifty-Two’s Patriots, the team will hang up their jerseys one last time.

“I can’t thank Brian and his wife enough for their support over these last 10 years,” Geary said. “Having them as our sponsor, I know we all took a lot of pride in wearing the P52 on our chest.”

The Patriots will now be called the Pat Hagge Patriots in honor of Pat Hagge, who has had a great impact on the Millard South Baseball community.

“Duensing was a great sponsor for us,” Heard said. “It will be sad to put on a new jersey, but I’m excited for a new beginning.”

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