The Knights accomplished their goal of winning the title for an assistant coach who died of cancer.
Sleepy Eye St. Mary's players wore a patch on their sleeve this season commemorating assistant coach Jeff Cook, who lost a battle to cancer before the season. The Knights dedicated their 2007 season to him, and with a 7-4 victory over Royalton in the Class 1A championship Friday evening, they accomplished their mission.
"He taught us so much about baseball, it was great that we could win a championship for him," Knights starter Bryan Milliard said. Milliard pitched four innings, giving up four earned runs, but drove in two runs and helped himself get the victory.
"I know the kids reflected on Jeff a lot," St. Mary's coach Bruce Woitas said. "We kept a ball with his picture on it in the dugout with us, and I think that helped everybody knowing he was watching over us."
Cook's son, John, got the save for the Knights, who defended their 2006 championship.
The title was St. Mary's fourth in six years and solidified the Knights as a high school baseball dynasty even though they didn't finish the season in the top 10 of the coaches poll.
In fact, only one of the eight teams in the 1A tournament finished in the top 10, and that was Royalton (21-7), which finished ninth. St. Mary's (22-7) proved it belonged in the tournament, outscoring its opponents 21-4 in three games.
"The rankings don't mean much, to tell you the truth," Woitas said. "We tell our kids that we are the champions until someone knocks us off, and tonight we proved that we're still the champs."
The Knights jumped to a 7-1 lead in the first three innings. Royalton coach Rusty Gwost had considered starting staff ace Ben Presler, who had pitched a complete-game one-hitter in the semifinal the previous night, but instead started Ryan Snyder, who gave up four runs in one inning of work. Gwost said he didn't want to take a chance on Presler hurting his arm.