Not all good things are meant to last forever. Even for the Legion A Douglas Cats, it meant that a season full of accomplishments – including the most wins in a season since 2001 and a season high 14-game winning streak – had to come to an end, one way or another.
As he sat on the team bus Saturday evening following the season-ending loss to the Cody Cubs at the state tournament in Torrington, coach Zack Andrews, with the help of his wife Ryan, penned a gracious thank you to his coaches, players and all those who may have helped in the many successes of the 2018 season.
“Douglas should be proud of these boys,” Andrews wrote on the Douglas Cats’ Facebook page. “They play hard, respect the game and respect the other teams.
“The game goes on, but I lose a couple more pieces of myself as a coach every year. I am not sure how a coach does it to be honest with you.”
They were the heartfelt words of a man who’s helped mold dozens of Douglas baseball players from boys to men during his eight years as coach of the Cats.
In a few ways, this season’s team – Andrews’ best since he began coaching – stood out a bit more than others.
“It was really an enjoyable year,” Andrews said. “It was one of those years where even when things ended, I was still ready to coach.”
Reflecting on the Season
After falling just one game short of the state championship last season, the Cats returned this year with much of the same team and essentially right where they had left off.
“We really came together toward the end of last season,” Cats first basemen Ransom Ollie said. “So, it made the beginning of this season that much easier because we had already bonded well as a team.”
Out of the gates, Andrews’ team won 13 of their first 15 games and looked to be one of the top forces on the eastern side of the state through the first month and a half of the season.
They would eventually cool off in the middle of June and during a trip to Omaha, Nebraska. By the end of that month, they had found themselves in a unique position.
“Going to Omaha really helped us as a team,” Ollie said. “We faced the toughest competition that we had seen up until that point, and we learned a lot about ourselves.”
The Cats lost back-to-back shutouts to begin the tournament but salvaged a come-from-behind win against a tough team from Adrian, Michigan, 6-5. It was the lone win of the tournament for Douglas, but was a reminder that if they played their game, they could compete on the field with any team.
Shortly after the Battle of Omaha Tournament, the Cats rattled off 14 consecutive wins, spanning well over three weeks and nearly into the month of August. They ran the table at the Bolln Memorial Tournament in early July and, the weekend after, went undefeated at the Tani Tournament in Casper.
Then came the District Tournament in Wheatland where the Cats claimed the three-seed for the state tournament in Torrington. Unfortunately for Andrews’ team, it wasn’t the only thing that took place in Wheatland.
“I am so glad that Kale (Shlever) is okay after being hit in the chest by a line drive last week,” Andrews wrote on the Douglas Cats’ Facebook post.
Despite the loss that the team faced at the state tournament without Shelver – one of Douglas’ key pieces this season – the Cats battled until the third day and never gave up.
It was clear during the must-win game against Wheatland Aug. 2, that elimination wouldn’t come easy.
“They got down a little bit but they kept fighting back,” Andrews noted. “They could’ve packed it in a few times during that game and each time they bounced right back. They never gave up.”
The Cats came from behind and won 11-10, sending them onto Friday for a matchup with Riverton. The Raiders were one of the top teams all season long but Mason Barker stopped them right in their tracks.
The right-hander hurled a gem, striking out five and allowed just two runs in a complete game 5-2 win. It then meant that the Cats would have to get through the top team in the state, the Cody Cubs, in order to have a chance at advancing to the championship.
The two teams stuck close through the first couple of innings but after a few defensive errors by the Cats, the storyline was clear. The Cubs ended Douglas’ season with a 13-3 loss.
“You can’t give good teams an inch and we gave them a few inches,” Andrews said. “In order to be at that next level, you really have to be out of the box and take advantage of people’s mistakes and put pressure on teams like they did with us. That’s what good teams do. I think our guys figured that out.”
Following one of the best seasons in recent history, it was inevitable for the Cats to clean up with a contingent of district and state honors.
At the state level, Mason Barker and Michael Bobrowski were named to the All-State First Team. It was Barker’s third-straight All-State First Team honor and Bobrowski’s first after being named to the Second Team in 2017.
Barker led the Cats on the hill and accounted for 10 of their 36 wins this season. His 10 wins also matched the most in a season (Quin Robinson - 2003) for the program and only scratched the surface of honors that he’d receive.
The right-hander was also named the A East Pitcher and Player of the Year.
At the plate, Bobrowski was a menace in the leadoff spot and notched his own list of achievements. He broke the record for most singles in a season – held by TJ Fields in 1997 with 63 – with 70 and also broke Marvin Malone’s record for runs in a season (76) with 77. His 57 stolen bases were also just five short of Luke Andrews’ 62 in 2012.
But, instead of focusing on his accolades, Bobrowski made sure to bring the focus back to the team.
“I feel like we grew a lot as a team this season,” he said. “It was nice to grow with them.”
Catcher Cy Deluna and Ollie were also named to the All-State Second Team. Continuing at the district level, Barker, Bobrowski, Deluna and Ollie were named to the A East First Team and Andres Robles and Shelver were named to the A East Second Team.
To top it all off, Andrews was named the A East Coach of the Year.
Replacing Mason Barker and Kale Shelver will be a tall order for the Cats next season, but is one that Andrews and his team feel confident about.
The confidence was built around a number of younger guys who joined the team toward the end of the season, one of them being pitcher Cameryn Spence.
“Seeing Cameryn pitch that first game at state against Lovell made me realize that we have another guy in our starting rotation next year,” Andrews said. “Knowing that we’ll have to fill the shoes of Mason and Kale, which will be tough, and to have a guy that we can throw in there is going to be huge.”
The Cats were also graced by Jordan Bobrowski, Carter Walsh, Jacob Russell and Payton Brown, who all contributed when needed for Douglas down the stretch.
“We have some younger pitchers coming up and some other guys who came up and competed with the older guys,” Michael Bobrowski said, referring to Walsh, Russell and company. “It just showed that they’re ready to go at the next level.”
Michael Bobrowski, a singles machine and a player who will be back for at least two more years, was confident that this year’s team could pave the way for something even more special next season.
“This year was definitely one of the best teams we’ve had,” he said. “And next year is going to be just as good if not better.”
As for the man who led the charge for the Cats, his wife will finally get her husband back.
“I enjoyed coaching these guys, they made the game fun,” Andrews said. “It was a fun ride.”