Boys end with enviable 18-5
The 2003 Eudora Cardinals baseball team exceeded any and all expectations by going 14-5. After all, it was led by a first-year head coach and a senior class that had never finished above .500.
When the 2004 season rolled around, expectations were mixed.
Some expected the team to continue its sudden success. Others saw the campaign as a flash in the pan and looked at the tremendous blow graduation dealt the squad, and thus, typically low expectations emerged.
Well, head coach Dirk Kinney and his boys did it again.
This year's Cardinals achieved an incredible 18-5 record, earned their region's top seed and finished second in the Frontier League.
They out-scored their opposition 195-82. They stole 52 bases while surrendering just 10. And their 2.99 team ERA and .931 fielding percentage were impressive.
But while the team exceeded so many expectations, they failed to meet their own.
"I don't want it to sound like we exceeded expectations because our expectation should be to win state," Kinney said. "I don't look at the season as a failure by any means, but that should be our ultimate goal."
The team finished painfully short of reaching the state tournament this season. Eudora suffered a 3-1 loss to eventual state champion Bishop Ward in the regional championship game.
But despite the loss, the game marked a significant milestone. It was the first regional championship appearance for the Cardinal program.
The effort on the field exhibited the strides of Eudora's program. Ward defeated Andover-Central in the state championship 20-8 in just five innings.
Playing with the best is one thing, but Kinney always emphasizes that to be the best you must beat the best.
It's just a matter of getting over the hump.
"It started this year," Kinney said. "Two years ago Ward beat us 22-1. But now we believe we can beat them on any given day.
"I can't wait for next year. We know we'll see (Ward) again in regionals and that's alright with me."
Last year's playoff loss to Piper helped fuel this season's focus. And Eudora exacted its revenge on the Pirates with a 14-4 shellacking in the regional semifinal.
Next year's Cardinals will set their retaliatory sights on the state champs.
"It drives you, and I'll probably bring it up 150 times," Kinney said. "(Ward's) the only other team I know that practices about as much as we do. I'm not going to say they practice as hard as we do, though.
"Practice pays off, and I'm sure if we get the opportunity to meet them next year it's going to be pretty intense again."
It's the effort on the practice field that Kinney believes will define this team for future generations.
"The team gave excellent effort, and that's the one thing I harp on," he said. "We practiced every Saturday all year, and that's about 20 hours a week.
"I've never doubted their work ethic."
Kinney gives a lot of the credit to last year's seniors for setting the tone.
"Last year's seniors started to get the ball rolling; this year's kept it rolling," he said. "I don't want it to be surprise when we're so good. I want it to be expected.
"It's not easy to change that mindset when you haven't been a very good program. But the kids are starting to believe."
The class of 2004 built on that belief with players like starting pitcher Chris Gabriel, third baseman Aaron Westerhouse and catcher/right fielder Troy Van Horn.
Gabriel developed as the ace of the staff, amassing a 5-2 record with an ERA of 2.30. He struck out 43 while walking just 11.
Westerhouse hit .384 with 21 RBIs. And Van Horn hit an impressive .462 with one home run and a team-high 26 RBIs.
The Cards also said goodbye to Jared Pringle and Monte Steffey.
Now it's up to the class of 2005 and beyond. And that returning group is impressive.
Rod Evinger and Joe Kaup will mind the mound. Evinger was 5-1 this season with a 2.72 ERA. Kaup went 3-2 with a 3.29 ERA.
Evinger was also highly effective at the plate and in center field. He hit a solid .347 with 21 RBIs.
This season's breakthrough player was Chad Griffin. The Cardinal first baseman had just three hits in 16 at bats as a freshman. But as a sophomore Griffin lead the team with a .478 average.
The top of the order will return next year as well.
Lead-off man Miles Cleveland had a good sophomore year. The Cardinal second baseman hit .323 with an on-base percentage of .506. He led the team with 16 stolen bases.
Paul Smith owned the two-hole. The left fielder/pitcher hit .394 with a homer and 14 RBIs during his junior year.
Cardinal catcher Cole Massey is the other player of note. As a junior, Massey hit .258 with 19 RBIs and a team-high three home runs.