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RAISING ANOTHER BANNER: St. Anthony senior class 'steers the ship' to a state championship

Jun. 7—EFFINGHAM — There's always room in the rafters for one more banner.

For the St. Anthony baseball program, they had only delivered one until Sunday morning.

And this senior class of Beau Adams, Connor Roepke, Max Koenig, Nick Ruholl and Jordan Jones were the ones who brought it.

"Each one of those guys means so much to me and the program," head coach Tony Kreke said. "Just to see how they've grown as freshmen to seniors and now they're getting ready to go on and pursue their own careers. As baseball players, the work ethic they put into it; it's extremely gratifying to see all that work pay off for them."

One year removed from feeling anger after a super-sectional loss to Goreville only fueled this team.

The bump to Class 2A fueled it even more, though.

"You feel bad for the seniors last year," Kreke said. "They didn't get to experience this. That experience led to the work that went into it. When they were walking off that field last year (at Carbondale), they were angry and they were mad. And they put that anger to their work and to the things that they wanted to achieve and what they knew they could achieve.

"Being bumped up to 2A really had them fired up and working hard."

Though falling short of their ultimate goal one year ago, the leadership never changed.

That's just part of the program's culture that has passed down from class to class.

It started with Brody Niebrugge, Angelo Mendella, Colton Fearday and Eli Link. Then, it went to Will Hoene, Eli Levitt and Brock Jansen.

"Will and Eli (Levitt) were exceptional leaders, as well, but that goes without saying," Kreke said. "We had a guy like Brock Jansen that worked so hard to be where he was at, so you had three great leaders who loved baseball."

Kreke said that the seniors "steer the ship."

Though players graduate and move on, the culture stays the same and that starts with experience.

"You just got to keep passing the baton," Kreke said. "We got a great group of seniors coming in; it's a great group of guys. They push each other, but they love to have fun with each other. It's great to see that experience."

Kreke spoke of each senior; three of the players also commented.

BEAU ADAMS

Adams is the leadoff hitter and centerfielder for the Bulldogs.

"He was our table-setter," Kreke said. "He was the guy that got things going for us, but, most importantly, he was an energy guy. We talked about it a lot toward postseason, 'We got to have guys who can bring the juice,' and he was that guy. Whether he was having a good game or, in his eyes, not a great game, he still had to be that energy guy and be a good teammate and we rallied off his energy."

Adams finished the year batting .324 with 38 runs scored and 36 hits.

Following the "Welcome Home" ceremony on Sunday, Adams looked up into the rafters at the Enlow Center and noticed a spot that needed to be filled.

"There's going to be another banner," Adams said. "Just finding out that it's the second one in school history, it feels great. Still trying to process it a little bit. I'm so happy for all these guys. I think we deserved it and we went out and got it."

CONNOR ROEPKE

Roepke is the starting catcher.

"He was the heart and soul of this team," Kreke said. "You could see it when that last out was made, the character that young man has. (After) the last out of the state championship, most catchers go and celebrate with the team. He stood up, turned around and shook the umpire's hand and then he went and celebrated. That, to me, exemplifies his character as a young man. His work ethic is unmatched. We're going to miss him."

Roepke batted .398 this year with 36 RBIs, six doubles and four home runs.

He is taking his talents to Southwestern Illinois College next year to continue playing baseball. He couldn't shy away from what the St. Anthony baseball program meant to him, though.

"The program, it's great," Roepke said. "Coach Kreke and behind him with Coach Clint (Lustig), Coach Blake (Malatestinic), Coach Whitney (Miller) and Coach Mark (Young), they do a lot to help the program. Some of it goes unnoticed and I think should be noticed more, but without them, the program would be nothing. They put a lot of time and effort into the program."

MAX KOENIG

Koenig is the starting shortstop, one of the best "small ball" players in the area and is just as great defensively.

"He's one of those guys; I think he'd rather take 100 groundballs," Kreke said. "He loves playing defense, but he was 'Mr. Consistent' out there. He played a lot of innings as a freshman and he grew up to be one of the best shortstops, really in the area. He has unbelievable character, but you were able to see what he was able to do in the batter's box. He was able to bunt, move runners, suicide squeezes; he did whatever it took to win a game."

Koenig was overjoyed after winning a state championship.

The smile said it all, too.

"It's awesome. Winning state is so crazy to think about," said Koenig with a wide grin. "I'm so happy to be here and I'm ready for my ring."

NICK RUHOLL

Ruholl saw some time as a pitcher and was also a courtesy runner.

"He pitched a lot of innings for us coming in," Kreke said. "He knew what his role was and his role was to come in and get outs when he was on the mound. He's one of those kids who just loves baseball. You never see him have a bad attitude or anything like that. Just another glue guy."

JORDAN JONES

Jones was one of the leaders in the dugout.

Someone who didn't see very much playing time but made up for it by being an exceptional teammate.

"What a fun kid. He's another glue guy," Kreke said. "Guys really love hanging around with Jordan. Brought good energy to the team. Whatever the team needed, he was able to do."

Contact EDN Sports Editor Alex Wallner at 618-510-9231 or alex.wallner@effinghamdailynews.com.