Edwardsville Players React To State Baseball Championship, Will Always Have Precious Memories Of Title Run
EDWARDSVILLE – For the 2019 Edwardsville High School baseball team, it was indeed a very special season, as the Tigers ended up with a record of 37-5 and won the IHSA Class 4A championship Saturday night at Route 66 Stadium in Joliet with a thrilling 3-2 win over St. Charles North in eight innings.
It’s Edwardsville’s third baseball championship, the first in Class 4A and the first since taking the Class AA crown in 1998, the famous 40-0 season under head coach Tom Pile.
And on Sunday at the field named for Pile, three senior members of the Edwardsville team discussed their memories of the club and what their next steps will be.
In the case of reserve infielder Matt Stopka, it was a chance to play with many of his friends that he’s been playing with since grade school.
“I’m feeling amazing,” Stopka said. “It’s just an unreal experience to go to the state tournament and end up winning the state title. It’s huge, and I’d never thought I’d be standing here with one of these golden medals around my neck, and it feels amazing.”
The team builds up much camaraderie and friendship throughout the season, which was an important factor in the Tigers’ success.
“We’ve all grown up playing baseball with each other for the past ten-plus years,” Stopka said, “and when we finally come together our senior year, everything just runs so fluid, and we’re one. We’re not individuals, we’re a team, and that why I think we did so well up in Joliet.”
And when Edwardsville got the final out, when relief pitcher Collin Salter caught Kevin White looking on a fastball for a called third strike, Stopka couldn’t wait to celebrate with his teammates.
“I was ready to get out there and get into the dogpile, and celebrate with my brothers,” Stopka said. “And it was an amazing experience to be able to win it with the team that we had.”
As far as Stopka’s future plans in baseball, he’s not quite sure yet, but he’ll enjoy the ride wherever it takes him.
“I think we’re just going to see where the road takes us,” Stopka said. “We’re going to try to find ball where ball is to be played, and just make the most of every chance I have to continue to play this great sport.”
And the memories will be there to tell his future children about when Stopka starts his own family.
“Yeah, I’m excited for that,” Stopka said. “You know, looking back, I’m going to remember this moment for the rest of my life, and it’s just amazing. And just want to say thanks to coach (Tim) Funkhouser for letting me be a part of this great experience.”
For pitcher Grayson Slagle, the feelings of winning the title are about the same as Stopka’s.
“It is a great feeling,” Slagle said. “Just one of the greatest parts of the season is just all this coming together as a team. Like, at the beginning of the season, we weren’t all that close, and then, just every game, we got closer and closer, and the camaraderie was insane.”
Slagle thought that St. Charles North was a great team, and everyone was on needles and pins as the seventh inning came along, and the Stars tied the game and were threatening to win when Salter came in.
“They were a great team,” Slagle said, “and it was very nerve-wracking in the seventh inning when they had the bases loaded with no outs, but Salter went in there, and they executed. And it was just a great feeling just to finally get that last out, the first championship in 21 years. It felt awesome.”
The memories that Slagle will take away from the team are priceless indeed.
“Well, especially with the state championship, I’ll remember this for the rest of my life,” Slagle said. “I’ll be telling my kids, my grandkids that story. It’s just really almost like a come from behind story. We don’t take days off, we practice every day we can for three hours, every day. We put in the work, and it was a tough road, the teams we played. We played a lot of good teams, maybe some more talented than us, but powered through, and we did a great job.”
And for Grayson Slagle and his future, it includes a future life outside of baseball.
“I am going to the University of Mississippi,” Slagle said, “probably study law, see where it goes from there.”
And of course, he’ll always have the memories of the championship team and season to tell his future family about.
“It is an incredible feeling,” Slagle said, “just being able to say I was on the 2019 state championship Tigers. And it is a really great feeling, with an awesome way to cap off the senior year of my high school career, and my baseball career as a player.”
And Slagle also added a couple of intangibles that accompanied the Tigers throughout their campaign.
“I credit all our success to the band ball,” Slagle said, “and the American flag cowboy hat. That really influenced our game, and it was a big part of our success.”
Infielder Jack Cooper was out much of the season with a shoulder injury, but still made a big contribution to the team just with his support of his teammates.
“The season has been fantastic,” Cooper said. “Obviously, it was disappointing having to miss most of it, but being in the dugout and support the rest of my team has been fantastic. We have a bunch of great ballplayers here, and I’m so happy for them, the guys who were able to do it all season long.”
The team’s chemistry and makeup was a big part of the season’ success, and Cooper talked about how the bonds were formed that made for a key part of the season.
“I thought they bonded really well,” Cooper said. “Throughout the course of the season, we had team get togethers, even over the winter before the season started. We were able to really bond; there are no real conflicts this year, and I thought that was a huge part of our success.”
For Cooper’s favorite memories of the season just past, it’ll be winning the championship at Joliet.
“Oh, definitely winning the state championship,” Cooper said. “Dog piling at the end. That’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life, and everybody else will too.”
As far as Cooper’s future, he’s yet to hear from some schools of choice, but one thing for certain is a trip to the east coast.
“I’ll do my postgraduate year next year,” Cooper said, “and keep playing football, keep playing baseball, and hope for bigger things.”
As far as a specific school, Cooper has yet to hear from some that he’s made contact with, and is keeping his options open.
And as the other players, the state championship is a special memory that Cooper will be able to share with future family members.
“Yeah, definitely,” Cooper said. “I’ll remember this for the rest of my life, and a bunch of these guys are guys I’ll be able to see in 10, 15, 20 years, and we’ll be able to sit down and talk about this, and it’ll be one of the best memories of our life.”