The Ottumwa Courier

August 9, 2013

Sabers overcome tragedy through triumphs on diamond

By SCOTT JACKSON Courier sports writer
Ottumwa Courier

---- — BUSSEY — Monday, June 10. That was a good day for the Twin Cedars baseball family. One that stuck with them even as they took the field for the program’s second-ever state baseball tournament contest.

The Sabers took the field at Principal Park in Des Moines for the Class 1A State Quarterfinals against three-time state champion Martensdale-St. Mary’s facing the daunting task of trying to be the first team since 2009 to beat the Blue Devils in postseason play. Perhaps it might have been too daunting for the Sabers with so many players making their state tournament debuts on that night. That is, if it hadn’t been for Monday, June 10, and the Sabers 5-4 regular-season victory over Martensdale-St. Mary’s on that particular night.

“We played them in the regular season and we knew we could beat them,” sophomore Otis Roby said after pitching all nine innings of the Sabers’ landmark 4-1 state tournament win that ended the Blue Devils’ bid for a fourth-straight state title. “We had the confidence if we played our game that we could win because we did it once. We knew we could do it again.”

It’s an amazing thing to know the power the game of baseball can have on a group of young men. While Monday, June 10, provided the Sabers a chance to overcome a great challenge on the field, the following day would challenge the team and the entire community that supports them in totally unimaginable way.

On Tuesday, June 11, less than 24 hours after participating in one of the Sabers’ biggest wins of the season, Derek Springer would be the team and the community’s biggest loss. The 18-year-old junior was involved in a major car crash near Pella, causing severe head trauma that ultimately cost Springer his life just five days later.

Suddenly, a team in the middle of such a success season had to figure out a way to continue on with a member of their family having been shockingly taken away from them.

“Shock is a good work,” Twin Cedars head coach Matt Miller said. “I think our boys were definitely in a state of shock when they first heard that news.”

Nobody would have blamed this group of young men if the simple matter of winning or losing baseball games wasn’t at forefront of their minds anymore. Having just lost a teammate, a classmate, a close friend and in the case of Dylan Springer a twin brother, trying to continue down the road to producing to most successful season in Twin Cedars baseball history might not have been that important.

That would be easy to say for those that don’t know this very special group of young men who honored their teammate by doing exactly what he would have done, continuing to work on getting better at the game each and every day.

“That was a big challenge for us, but it made us stronger as a unit and as a family,” Miller said. “Baseball was really what helped us get through that. Baseball helps you get through a lot of things in life. It’s our job to give back to the game and give the game its due. We hope we do that every day.”

“I think that just brought us a lot closer this season,” Roby added

The work of players like Roby, who won would go on to become a first-team all-state pitcher this season as a sophomore while winning his first 12 games and recording a 0.64 ERA, helped keep this successful summer on track for Twin Cedars. The Sabers finished the with the best overall regular-season record in high school baseball, steamrolling to an undefeated Bluegrass Conference title while winning district and substate crowns by a combined score of 35-2 to earn the program’s second trip to state.

The icing on the cake for this special 2013 baseball season was the clearing of the hurdle of the three-time state champs from Martensdale-St. Mary’s, who made a part to those state tournaments many times by going through Twin Cedars in the substate rounds. It all added up to a year none of these Saber players will forget anytime soon.

“This is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” all-state junior outfielder Brent Parker said. “I love these guys like brothers. I couldn’t imagine doing with anybody else.”

Of course, Parker was quick to remember the one brother of the entire team that couldn’t physically be there with them in Des Moines. Of course, he was certainly there in spirit.

“It sucks that Derek couldn’t be here to enjoy this with us,” Parker said. “It was huge for us to prove to our community that we could still bounce back. We needed to prove we were still a family even though tragedy had struck us. We needed to prove that we still love to play the game.”

And with five returning all-state players back next year, the Sabers certainly don’t expect anything less next season then to be back among the best 1A teams in the state playing at Principal Park in Des Moines. It will take one heck of a motivated team to stop them.

“This gives us a lot of motivation for next year as far as, obviously, we want to win it all,” Roby said. “I think this meant a lot for our program. It’s only our second ever trip to state. It’s been a memorable season.”

To follow Scott Jackson’s Twitter feed, go to @stjack423