The prospect of a trip to the Class 3 baseball Final Four was never a thought for Saxony Lutheran baseball coach Paul Sander or his team at the beginning of the season.
“I would never think something like we had a Final Four team,” Sander said. “I didn’t think it wasn’t either. However, it wasn’t my goal. I thought we had a solid team with a lot of potential, but a district championship was our goal, and once we got that, we just wanted to see how far we could go.”
Sander probably won’t complain about the result. The Crusaders went farther than any other Saxony baseball team in the program’s history, for a matter of fact. Saxony Lutheran went 23-4 and finished third in Class 3, both program bests.
That type of a season probably not even an inkling in Sander’s mind either some 13 years ago when he took over the baseball coaching position. The Crusaders had a total of 13 players more than a dozen years ago and the last two seasons have had 40 players on a roster. The growth has enabled Saxony to recently introduce a junior varsity program.
“Over a period of years of the school growing, field conditions improving, and a lot of different donations that have been made, and winning it creates interest in baseball in the school,” Sander said. “
Despite the sublime record, the success did not come easy for the Crusaders, who did not win a game in the postseason by more than three runs, outside of the 9-1 victory over Montgomery County in the third place game.
The Crusaders twice won with walk-off hits and beat the defending Class 3 champion Malden in 11 innings.
“When you reach the state playoffs, you are going to have to get some breaks,” Sander said. “You aren’t going to win every game by 10 runs at that point in the season, and while we made it close and interesting, we were able to move on.
Teams must have good players to reach the state playoffs, and the Crusaders had just that.
The Crusaders had seven players make the all-district team this season, it is the most Crusaders that have ever made the all-district team in one season.
But beyond those top players, Sander noted that his team does not reach the Final Four without the contributions of every player on the roster.
“The all-district players have the stats to back up their awards, but I feel like this season was more than that,” Sander said. “It takes a team to reach the final four, it takes more than seven players. The guys at the bottom of the lineup helped us out tremendously. If they get a hit or make a catch, they are contributing. Those six or seven guys that play part-time don’t get their names in the media, but that are big contributors to our success.”
Those contributors had to step up in the final four when the team was missing one big piece.
Senior Austin Fritsche did not compete in the final two games for the Crusaders as he went into the military after the sate quarterfinal game.
“It was an honor to be able to give Austin’s parents his third place medal after the game. Austin was our clean-up hitter this season and a leader on this team, but we had his jersey and picture in the dugout during the Final Four to keep him with us. But we couldn’t be more proud of his service.”
Isaac Ringwald and Luke Richmond, Fritsche’s eventual replacements came up with hits in the final game to help the cause and cement Sander’s faith in the contributors.
Saxony returns all but three seniors, and will hopefully boast yet another strong team in 2020 that may have a target on its back for their opponents.
“It is what it is,” Sander said. “I know that when other teams have done it and we went to play them, there was a little extra incentive there to win. It will be a new test for us next year to see how we handle that.”
That’s a long way from having 13 players.