Ask any experienced coach or player in a team sport and they’ll more than likely tell you that winning a championship isn’t easy.
By now, the fact that the Licking High School baseball team won the 2023 Class 3 state crown is pretty well known in these parts, and to say the least, that’s no small feat. This wasn’t just a midseason tournament championship, league championship or even district championship, this was a state championship.
There’s nothing to improve upon or any shoulda-coulda-woulda disappointment, because there’s simply no higher goal to achieve. There’ no “what if,” there’s only what is.
Having watched Licking beat the beloved Houston Tigers three times this past season (all on Houston’s home field, mind you), I got a pretty good feel for what type of squad the Wildcats were. My impression of them was similar to the way I viewed this year’s version of the HHS squad: A well-coached, cohesive unit with talented players from the top to the bottom of the lineup. There was good pitching, good hitting and timely plays in the field. And there was enough depth. Not as much as you might hope for, but enough.
And like Tigers head coach Brent Hall, Licking head coach Harv Antle runs a tight ship, with fundamentals, situational know-how, solidarity and good old fashioned effort obviously making up the team’s primary staples.
But the Wildcats also had that intangible “it” factor, making them a threat to give the opposition a hard time every time they took the field. They might not pass the “look test” in some instances, but darned if they didn’t do what it took most of the time – 27 times, in fact, because they finished the season with a highly respectable record of 27-6 (24-6 against teams not from Houston).
All that said, I have to point out that I didn’t really think Licking was better than Houston this year. In fact, if the Tigers’ two ace pitchers were available for the district championship game, I don’t think it’s at all far-fetched to think Houston might have been the Texas County team going the distance in the Class 3 state tournament. But alas, that wasn’t the case, because the way baseball sometimes goes, you have to play your best cards a bit early to avoid undesired outcomes (or simply survive and advance) and Hall had to use his aces prior to the district final.
Sure, there were the other two losses as well, but by the same token, the way baseball sometimes goes, you just plain have bad days, and I thought the Tigers were sort of in a funk in both of those games.
Anyway, congratulations to the 2023 Missouri State High School Activities Association Class 3 baseball state champion Licking Wildcats. While I wish Houston fans were all still giddy about a championship, I guess it’s pretty cool that the trophy isn’t far up the road.
And to all the other high school teams, coaches and athletes in Texas County: This should be a very encouraging and motivating situation, because Licking showed that there is a path that leads from here to the top of the mountain, and that it’s entirely possible to get there.
Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.