By Daniel Brunty The Winston County Journal
Repeating as back-to-back sports, no matter what level, is somewhat of a feat this day in age. Competition on all levels is at an all- time high, not to mention various other factors that can stray a team from this goal.
But for the Nanih Waiya Warriors baseball team, dedication and the right amount of savvy allowed them to be crowned as the MHSAA Class 1A State Champions, completing the feat.
The Warriors went into the first of the season knowing that being defending champions would put a bull’s-eye on their backs. “It was a tough journey this year,” said Warriors Head Coach Tyler Rogers. “It was more of teams were giving us their best effort, because they knew we were on top and they wanted to be the ones to beat us.”
Getting the best effort from all their competition was a test for the championship team this season. “Last year, it was a lot of fun and a lot of excitement, maybe because we had never been there before. But this year seemed like a lot more work.”
A big key in the Warriors success this past season was having a very experienced team. Losing only two seniors from their first championship team, Rogers knew that all the materials were still there to build with. “I thought with what we had coming back, especially all our pitching, that we would have a real good shot at it,” Rogers said. “But I knew a lot of things had to happen for us to get back there. No matter how good you are, along the way you have to have a little luck. Fortunately we got those breaks along the way when we needed them.”
The Warriors have shown a true dominance in their class, finishing both their championship season with 20 plus wins and undefeated records in division play. What makes the Warriors a special team, however, is contribution from ALL their players.
Nanih Waiya has two players with batting averages over .400 (Colby Eaves, Brandon Rigdon) and five players over .300 (Tanner Dalton, Hunter Luke, Stewart Ball, Hunter Swart, Luke Rosamond). Their cohesion to becoming one single unit have them working like a well- oiled machine.
Rogers saw these changes over the season in some of his players. “Our main two pitchers, Colby and Luke, both did a really good job for us,” Rogers said. “Brandon Rigdon was another senior who really stepped up for us this year. We were expecting to be a good ball player, however, he came out and led the team in batting average this year.”
With the success of an incredible season came the benefit of participating in the playoffs. The Warriors showed the resolve of a champion in the postseason, as they went on to advance to play for the championship against a strong Greenville St. Joseph team.
The last game of the series would see the Warriors try to hold on to a one-run lead going into the seventh inning. The pressure had mounted when Greenville St. Joe put on a rally in the sixth inning to cut the lead to one. “It got a little tight at that point,” Rogers said. “I trust in Colby on the mound and for our defense to make plays behind him, and that is what they did.”
Rogers also credits the spirit of the Warriors fans who were at their final game. “It was a great feeling, not just for me but for all the kids, the players, and all the fans that came out,” Rogers said. “I believe we had one of the biggest turnouts as far as crowds down there of any school down there, whether they were 1A or 6A. It just means a lot to everyone in Nanih Waiya.”
If history is any indicator, the Warriors fans and faithful will have big things to look forward to in the upcoming season as well. Only losing two seniors to graduation, the Warriors of next season will feature players who have “been there and done that.”
But until then, Nanih Waiya and the rest of Winston County can proudly look back at this time in history and reflect on its significance.