By Calli Newberry
The St. Clair County Community College baseball team wrapped up its season Saturday afternoon against the 12th-ranked team in the nation, Lansing Community College.
While the Skippers dropped both games that day, they finished with a lot of momentum and a couple of exciting milestones to carry into next fall, according to head coach Ryan Kottke, who said his favorite part about this season was the resilience his team showed.
The series started Thursday when SC4 hosted Lansing. Through the first six innings, the Skippers clung to a narrow lead, but in the top of the seventh, the Stars hit a two-run homer to take the victory, 6-5. Even then, however, Kottke said his team still battled.
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“It took the wind out of our sails but at the same time they came back in the second game and battled, and came back in the third game and battled, and then that fourth game, you could tell the guys were realizing that season was coming to a close,” Kottke said. “Guys weren’t saying it, but you could see it in their faces that they didn’t want it to be over.”
When SC4 traveled to Lansing on Saturday, Sean Berg started on the mound for his last time as a Skipper. Four batters into the first inning, Berg threw his first strikeout of the game and his 100th of his college career.
“I think it was pretty cool,” Berg said. “I don’t really expect much less of myself, I wasn’t really all that surprised.”
He went on to throw three more that game, totaling 103 in the 82 innings he played over the last two years.
“Sean is Sean. From his freshman year until now, he’s learned not to show emotion. Even when he got that 100th [strikeout], he was worried about the score and the team first,” Kottke said. “Everything that he’s built himself up to be in this program, you could see it all come to a culmination there.”
After that third strike, catcher Whit Hughes kept the ball aside and gave it to Kottke, who would then give it to Berg.
“I went over to him and his family and Sean was upset that we lost in, but the same time I was talking to parents for a quick second [after the game] and I said, ‘You’re not going to want this right now, but you’re going to cherish this moment for a while,’” Kottke said.
It’s milestones like that accompanied by the small moments that made this season memorable, Kottke said. With the 2020 season’s cancellation and the 2021 season that didn’t count toward players’ eligibility, some of his players were able to stick around for four years, giving Kottke more time to get to know them and build a new culture.
“I’ll remember this team for the rest of my life, it was a good group,” he said. “They had fun, they did things the right way, and they came to work every day. It was a pleasure to be associated with this group.
One of his favorite memories was simply the conversations he, his fellow coaches, and his players got to have after practice.
“For the last probably two and a half years, we’ve had a group of guys that periodically change that stay after practice and kind of shoot the bull with [us],” Kottke said. “We sit around and tell stories of years passed or what happened last game. It’s not so much one moment in particular, but that kind of setting and feel where guys are comfortable to sit around and talk to us as human beings instead of just looking at us as authoritative figure coaches.”
Hughes, one of the four-year players on this year’s team, said this was one of his favorite teams to be a part of.
“It meant the world to me. I love Skip [Kottke]. I wouldn’t be the ballplayer I am today if it weren’t for him,” Hughes said. “To play a couple extra years at SC4 and build some relationships I may not have built elsewhere, it was well worth the four years spent. It meant the world to me.”
The Skippers finished the year 16-25 overall, giving the program its winningest season since Kottke took the helm, and he’s confident it will only get better with 11 new players committed and a current roster hungry for more.
“I’m really excited about next year, especially with what this transferring class is leaving us, momentum wise, thought-process wise, and their legacy on this program,” Kottke said. “They’ve established a culture and built a foundation of a winning program and we can sustain the momentum that we’ve been building for the last couple years. They’ve done a great job with it.”