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Going out on top

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MCE first baseman Dylan Blehm tries for an out during the Heart of the Ozarks League championship game.

Morrisville’s Braden Grant got the hit he’d waited most of his high school career for Thursday night, July 2. 

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Garret Trantham rounds first base early in the Panthers’ win.

Standing at the plate with his Marion C. Early teammates tied 2-2 with Weaubleau in the sixth inning of the Heart of the Ozarks League championship game, the graduating senior swung hard at a pitch, making contact and sending the ball over the back fence. 

The home run scored both him and base runner Triston Bruegman, driving a wedge between the two teams that lasted to the game’s conclusion. 

“I’ve been waiting for that moment since sectionals my freshman year,” Grant said. 

MCE added another run to win the game 5-3, claiming the league’s inaugural title. 

For outgoing seniors Grant, Austin Francka and Josh Bumgarner, the hit, the win and the atmosphere around the game were exactly the way they wanted to go out.

Along with in-person instruction, all spring sports were canceled earlier this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

MCE activities director David Francka previously told the BH-FP he helped organize the summer league to give players — and primarily seniors — the closure they needed after missing their 2020 seasons. 

“It was a great way to end the season. It’s not the season we wanted, but it was good enough,” Austin Francka said. 

Bumgarner said he felt satisfied. 

“It really gave me a lot of closure to get that final season, with all of its emotions and all the feelings,” he said. 

And the whole team kicked it up a notch for their final game, Austin Francka pointed out. 

“We were on the top of our game tonight for the most part,” he said. “Our offense struggled a little bit at the beginning, but we did what we had to do. Altogether, we put together a dang good baseball game. Everybody did their part. The defense was on top of it.”

After Weaubleau tied the game 2-2 in the second inning, both teams’ defenses clamped tight, not allowing any runs until Grant’s home run in the sixth inning. 

“The 0-0 innings really gave it that district and sectional feel that we always wanted to feel as seniors,” Bumgarner said. 

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Ty Haynes catches a fly ball Thursday, July 2. 

First-year MCE coach Jason Grose said he too was impressed with his team’s ability to handle the pressure of a tense game after a tough season. 

“I’m just really proud of them,” he said. “It was a weird situation with a new coach coming in, and they could have very easily just been uncoachable and said, ‘I’m never going to play for this guy.’ But, they listened. They played hard and did things the right way. I’m just proud of them getting to end their season like this.”

MCE upset top-ranked Skyline 7-4 on Wednesday, July 1, to advance to the championship game.

Grant’s title game home run accented the experience, Grose said. Later in the game, with one out and Weaubleau runners loading the bases, the senior took the mound as a relief pitcher, striking out one and luring another into an easily caught pop fly. 

“You can’t really ask for a better end to a baseball career,” Grose said. 

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Starting pitcher Triston Bruegman fires a ball towards first base.

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