WARRENSBURG — Warrensburg-Latham appeared on the verge of another disappointing postseason.
Since breaking a 46-year regional title drought in Cardinals coach Chris Elston’s first season, in 2009, Warrensburg hadn’t won one since.
He had high hopes for this year’s team, which had gone 15-11 in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year in 2017.
The Cardinals began this season 15-2, then lost six of seven. But Warrensburg beat Petersburg PORTA 6-2 in the regional semifinals to reach the finals for the first time since a heartbreaking 1-0 loss to Williamsville in the 2014 regional finals. Then the Cardinals got past Athens 10-9 in the regional finals with Logan Bledsaw delivering the game-winning RBI in the seventh inning.
Warrensburg finished 18-9 — its fifth straight winning season — and won a regional title, earning Elston his second H&R Macon County Baseball Coach of the Year Award in his 10th season as coach.
“There were definitely bumps in the road,” Elston said. “When you’re dealing with 17- and 18-year-olds, consistency can be an issue.”
It didn’t help that Warrensburg had 10 consecutive games rained out at one point in the season. But Bledsaw said it was more than just rust.
“We just got too ahead of ourselves, thinking about how great we were doing and how good we were going to do in postseason,” Bledsaw said.
Elston, though, never wavered in his belief that this was a team that could win a regional.
“I had pretty high expectations coming into the season, and from what I’d seen for the better part of the season, I knew what they were capable of,” Elston said. “Going into last year, we had graduated 10 seniors — they were a young team and they could have fallen on their faces. But they overachieved.
“They built on that this year — they were pitching well, and they were scoring a lot of runs. They’re one of the best offenses we’ve had in my time here. So I knew it was there. We just had a hiccup.”
Bledsaw said the Elston kept the pressure off, and the seniors had a renewed focus going into the postseason. Winning the regional was especially satisfying for Elston after four straight winning seasons that fell short of postseason hardware.
“For the kids to pick themselves up off the ground at just the right time is a testament to who they are as players,” Elston said. “Regional championships are hard to come by. There were a lot of frustrations, winning 20 games for three years and not winning one. When you finally get one, it feels good.”
This year’s seniors at Warrensburg didn’t play on a losing team and led a regional title. Next year’s players will have big shoes to fill, but Elston’s program has shown it can reload in a hurry.
“Warrensburg has a great youth league system, and with Coach Elston running the middle school program, you’re seeing it pay off,” Bledsaw said. “Warrensburg-Latham is becoming a baseball school.”