“This is history,” was the phrase Jackson baseball senior Caden Bogenpohl uttered when he ran out onto the diamond for the seventh and final inning of the Class 6 District 1 Championship Game on Saturday at Northwest High School.
Three outs later, the Indians started celebrating as they had secured their first district title in four seasons, which was, of course, the first in Caden’s career as he didn’t have a freshman season due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
“The amount of hours of hard work and preparation that we have all been though, seeing the success in these big games is awesome,” Bogenpohl said. “I know each and every one of us has dreamed of the situation we’re in right now. We’re here and ready for this weekend to keep it going.”
Bogenpohl and the No. 1 seeded Indians left little doubt as to who was winning this year’s district tournament as they handled Mehlville 9-2 in a game where the Missouri State signee hit not one but two home runs for three runs batted in three at bats.
In the district semifinals for a 6-0 win over Oakville, Bogenpohl also hit two homers and had four RBIs in a game where he also pitched a no-hitter and recorded 18 strikeouts.
“I never try to get too high or too low because this game will humble you very quickly,” Caden said. “Luckily in these big games, it hasn’t been just me — the whole team is hot right now and on a 17-game win streak. We’re playing the best baseball at the right time.”
Also hitting a ball outside the park in Jackson’s seven-run win over Mehlville for the district title was senior catcher Baden Hackworth as it was a solo home run in the bottom of the fifth inning. Hackworth, who will be taking his talents to Saint Louis, also drove in two runs during the bottom of the first on a double to left field for the Indians to take a 3-0 lead.
Bogenpohl hit a two-run homer in the following inning to give Jackson a 6-0 cushion after senior shortstop Henley Parker scored a run from second base off an error in left field.
Driving in the first run of the game for the Indians was sophomore designated hitter Cooper Rhodes off a double to send home Parker. Also scoring a run in this historic win was senior left fielder Steven Schneider, who did so in the bottom of the fifth.
Starting on the mound for the Indians was junior pitcher John Paul Sauer, who threw a complete game and notched a game-high nine strikeouts. The Tulane verbal commit only allowed one earned run and kept the Panthers off base until the fourth inning.
“This is a special group, and I’m grateful the coaches and players had enough confidence in me to let me go out and start,” Sauer said. “I was able to keep my pitch count down decent enough with a great defense behind me and was able to finish the game. Right when the last pop fly went up, it’s like, ‘Yes! We did it!’
“Our pitching was unbelievable, and for me to have the worst game of the district tournament, I’ve got to say it’s special. [Bogenpohl and I] looked at each other after the Poplar Bluff game, and we were like, ‘It’s you and me from now on.’ It’s 1A and 1B — he pushes me to be the best I can be, and I hope I do the same for him.”
Along with pitching three perfect innings, Sauer also got himself out of a dangerous situation in the top of the six. After two singles and one error, Mehlville had the bases loaded, but John Paul forced back-to-back outs as the Panthers only scored once off a fielder’s choice.
In the seventh and final inning with one out, the Panthers put two more runners on base, but Sauer recorded a strikeout and then forced a pop up secured for an the final out by Parker to end the game and win districts.
“I think it’s just lessons learned,” Sauer said. “In the last two to three years, it’s been like we get almost there, but we face a good team and kind of melt. That was me last year — I lost the playoff game last year. We knew coming in, we weren’t going to accept that.”
Jackson (32-6) is now set to host the state quarterfinal game against Class 6 District 2 Champion Lafayette (20-12-1) this Saturday. The Indians previously hosted Lafayette this season for a doubleheader in April, which saw the Lancers win game one 3-0, followed by a 6-2 victory for the Indians.
Pitching duties will be split between Bogenpohl and Sauer as one of them will start the game and the other will come in as relief if need be.
“With JP and I on the mound, we don’t care who we play. We know we have a chance to go out there and compete with anyone in the state,” Bogenpohl said.
Sauer added, ““I think it’s going to be a fun game, and we need to remember it’s going to be a fun game. If we have fun, and we play loose, I think we’ll be hard to beat.”