Independence baseball finishes season in regional tournament

by Martin McConnell

For the first time in over a decade, the Independence High School baseball team reached the regional tournament. The team’s 2023 season was not only a strong one, but according to head coach Jim Crooks, the team was perhaps the best he has coached.

The Blue Devils finished 15-7 this season, capturing their first district championship in 11 years, Crooks said. While the team’s entire season was solid, Crooks said the team truly got hot at the right time, riding a wave of exceptional pitching to the regional semifinals.

“Varsity baseball had a season for the record books this year, because we were the district champions for only the eighth time in the history of the school,” Crooks said. “We advanced to the regional semifinals where we lost to the eventual state champions.”

Though Independence lost to Waynedale in the regional semifinals, Crooks said he was proud of his team. In addition to physical talent, mental strength was important this year.

According to Crooks, the team was mentally tough throughout the season thanks to a strong contingent of graduating seniors. Some of those seniors had been playing baseball together since their early elementary school years.

“We had six [seniors],” he said. “They’ve been playing together for many years … many of them in travel baseball for nine years. I would say we hit a stride late in the season. We strung together a number of close, one-run victories in the tournament.”

The team’s chemistry, Crooks said, was of utmost importance throughout the season. It was a full team effort, but Crooks noted a few players whom the Blue Devils were able to count on consistently throughout their playoff run.

“Each game built upon the prior game. The excitement, the intensity, the focus,” Crooks said. “We won the sectional championship [against Keystone] with a walk-off hit by sophomore Dominic Narduzzi. We had two pitchers’ duels back to back in the districts.”

Independence players had their backs against the wall despite their relatively high talent level, Crooks explained. Throughout the playoffs, his team consistently played higher-seeded teams and was able to cobble together wins in a variety of ways.

“There were a number of players who, throughout the tournament, stepped up and played big roles in one form or another,” he said. “Mike Andrycyk had the game of his career against Triway in the district championship game, where he scored the only run, and he made two of the most impressive catches that I’ve ever seen in high school baseball.”

Crooks also gave praise to starting pitchers: sophomore Sam Crooks and junior Cy Jolliff.

“We kind of did a righty-lefty combination in the tournament the whole way,” he said. “Rory Corrigan and Evan Beacher, they were great senior leaders all season long, and they were a good, strong presence for us in the tournament.”

The goal, of course, is to get back to where the team was this year, Crooks said. But with a fine crop of seniors on their way out, the Blue Devils know they have a long road to the regional championship.

“I want to thank the graduating seniors for their contributions,” he said. “And just communicate my excitement for the future of the program.” ∞

On our cover (Photo): The Independence High Schools boys baseball team ended their season with a 15-7 record, capturing the school’s first district championship in 11 years and competing against highly talented teams at the regional level. Photo courtesy of Jim Crooks.