The Cats’ season may not have ended exactly how they’d envisioned.
They weren’t storming from the dugout in jubilation after a walk-off hit to clinch the state title. The team’s seniors didn’t get that beautifully-written swan song to play as they rode into new chapters of their lives.
And no, manager Travis Mortimore wasn’t able to gather his men at home plate and hoist the Legion A State championship trophy in the air.
That just wasn’t in the cards for the Cats this year. An 8-4 loss to Torrington saw Douglas tossed from the state tournament after losing two straight games.
“We just made some critical mistakes that led to extra base-runners,” Mortimore said. “Everything just kind of snowballed from there.”
But even with the final page of the Cats’ 2021 story leaving a slightly sour taste, Mortimore recognizes the strides his team has made since their first practices in April.
“They’ve all gained so much confidence,” he said. “At the beginning of the year, some of them were a little timid, a little shy.”
Mortimore made specific mention of both right fielder/pitcher Ace Cathcart and second baseman Lane Kejr.
“With Ace, he came in these last two weeks of the season and was huge for us on the mound. He gave us ample opportunities to win the games where we put him on the mound.
“Lane (Kejr) is another one. He’s a 16-year-old who started the year kind of timid and uncertain that he could play at this level. But down the stretch, he became one of my go-to guys. I was hoping balls would get hit to him. And offensively, he was aggressive and able to drive in some runs for us.”
The season was Mortimore’s first as Legion A coach, so the 2021 Cats are a team he will never forget, he says.
Mortimore reiterates that even though he technically holds a higher rank as coach, his players taught him just as much this season as he taught them.
“Throughout the year, we worked on different hitting techniques,” he explained. “And at several points, the guys would come to me and say ‘Hey, this isn’t working.’ They wanted me to change my approach to how I taught them, and when I finally did, they took off.
“It taught me that sometimes, you have to change your approach for things to work. And that’s okay.”
There are too many memorable moments in the season for Mortimore to recount, but one in particular stands above the rest.
The Cats returned from an underwhelming road trip in early July to immediately kick off the Bolln Tournament at home. After a season of unpredictability, Mortimore says, that tournament was when he finally saw his team playing “to their full potential.”
“We had a lot of errors at the beginning of the year that cost us. But right before that tournament, I think it clicked with them. They started playing up.”
Mortimore says the team was just hitting its stride once the state tournament rolled around.
“They were right on that cusp. That’s why I hate the way the season ended, that it ended now. I feel like we were just getting ramped up, just getting ready to go.”
As for his seniors, Mortimore knows it’s likely the last time he’ll hear them refer to him as “coach.” But Mortimore hopes his impact in the dugout translates to an impact in the real world.
“Obviously, all of my seniors will probably either go to college or go down a different path in life,” he said. “And my goal as their coach has never been only to teach them baseball, but to teach them life skills, too. I just hope those guys – Zack (Virtue), Carson (Selk), Marcus (Mongiello) and Jordan (Bobrowski) learned something from me that they can take into the world and use to be successful.”
Mortimore offered one last thought on his team before officially closing the door on the Cats’ 2021 season.
“As a whole, I’m just so proud of the growth these guys have shown this year. It’s been incredible to watch unfold.
“And hopefully, we’ll get most of these guys back for next season. So we’re going to be ready to hit the ground running.”