Photo by Bill Roseberry
Civic Memorial’s Devin Daniels takes a lead off second base on May 28 in the Class 3A Jersey Regional semifinals against Highland. Daniels was a key contributor for CM’s turnaround from 4-11 to finish 18-15 and snare a portion of the Mississippi Valley Conference championship.
Nearly dead in the water, the Civic Memorial Eagles rallied for a resurgence that earned them a share of the Mississippi Valley Conference and a season that longtime head coach Gary Bruening won’t soon forget.
The 59-year old Bruening has directed the CM baseball program for 18 years and compiled more than 330 wins, but he admitted the ‘15 campaign was one to remember.
After starting 0-5 and then 4-11 overall and posting an 0-3 start in the MVC, the Eagles soared to a 14-4 finish with a 6-1 turnaround in league play. Overall CM finished 18-15 and 6-4, sharing conference gold with Highland and Waterloo.
Unfortunately, the Eagles saw their season conclude in a 9-3 loss to Highland on May 27 in the Class 3A Jersey Regional semifinals.
“It’s a bummer now, but it’s a positive when they look back on it,” Bruening said, following the loss to the Bulldogs. “I don’t know if they realize that right now.”
Highland coach Joel Hawkins took notice of CM’s surge.
“I just told Gary, this was a remarkable turnaround,” Hawkins said. “Look at their schedule of games. They were (4-11) and suddenly they’re (18-15); this is an amazing run that they put on and their team changed.
“I remember we had an easy little 10-1 game (April 15) and it wasn’t as easy as it looked, but 10-1. Then they turned around and came out and whacked us at our place. It was a 5-2 game (May 4) and it was the first inning (four runs), they just hammered us. It’s just a remarkable turnaround, one of the best turnarounds I’ve seen.”
The early woes for the Eagles can be attributed to the rugged schedule. Out of those first five losses, one was to 4A Edwardsville, two were to 4A Alton and one was talented 2A Southwestern. That’s just part of the game, according to Bruening.
“We’re not going to change our schedule; we’re going to play those teams and there have been times when we’ve competed and times we’ve beat them, but you know going in the chances aren’t as good,” Bruening said. “But you’re going to play them because that’s going to make you better ... In the long run, you look at the 0-5 start and these kids are thinking, ‘Aw man.’ But in the long run they learned from it and they get better playing those teams.”
Another testament to the turnaround was the evolution of some of the CM players. Sophomore Corey Price led the Eagles in batting average (.356, 1 HR, 19 RBIs), while fellow sophomore Brandon Hampton evolved at the plate and on the mound.
The southpaw Hampton (.302, 11 RBIs) played in the outfield when he wasn’t pitching (5-1, 2.35 ERA). Sophomores Brandon Carpenter and Konnar Loewen also contributed with catching duties, while Jaxsen Helmkamp and Collin Hall, also sophomores, saw action, too.
The emergence of senior outfielder Devin Daniels was key. Daniels hit .353 with a team-high 26 RBIs and four triples. He also pounded out nine doubles, good for second on the team.
“(Daniels) was a JV player last year and now he’s a .353 hitter, leads the team in RBIs, so we saw a lot of kids come up and make a big jump that we didn’t really expect,” Bruening said.
“We ended up playing consistently five or six sophomores and (John) Whitworth is a junior, Jack Walker gets four wins on the mound as a junior, so we have some kids coming back that have some talent.”
Whitworth battled back from midseason injuries (.340, 7 RBIs) and Walker was good on the hill from the left side (4-3, 4.77 ERA).
There was also a good contingency of seniors who were expected to perform for the Eagles and did their jobs.
Zac Cato (5-4, 2.73 ERA) contributed big on the mound, while Chaz Johannigmeier (.354, 11 RBIs), Lukas Jones (.337, 8 2Bs, 12 RBIs), Caleb Buhs (.300, 1HR, 25 RBIs), Tyler Andrus (.280, 18 RBIs) and Connor Bryant (.259, 10 2Bs, 1 HR, 15 RBIs) were key cogs at the plate and in the field for CM.
Bruening gives glory to his players for the midseason run. It’s what he’ll always remember fondly when he reminisces about the 2015 Eagles.
“Truthfully, we didn’t see it coming, but the kids did,” Bruening said. “The kids changed it and now every time we walk inside that gym we’re going to see a 2015 conference championship and that’s what I want them to remember.
“It could have really gone south. There’s no doubt we could have ended up winning seven or eight games, but the kids didn’t allow that to happen. They didn’t quit and they started working harder and got some confidence. I think I’ll remember that. I just told them, I don’t remember too many teams having a 14-4 stretch from Bethalto. I know we’ve had a lot of wins in the past, but to go in a stretch like that — it was 13 out of 15 at one time — that’s really turning the season around.”