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story.lead_photo.caption Trevor Austin of Helias makes contact on a pitch during a summer league game against Jefferson City earlier this month at Vivion Field. Photo by Associated Press / News Tribune.

The 2020 seniors on the Helias baseball team had known nothing but postseason baseball.

As freshmen and sophomores, the Crusaders advanced to the Class 4 quarterfinals. As juniors, the class helped to lead Helias to the Class 4 Final Four for the first time since 2004. The season didn't end quite the way they wanted with a loss to Borgia in the semifinals before the third-place game was called off due to rain.

The eight seniors were prepared to bid this spring for Helias' first baseball state title since 2001 before COVID-19 halted the season before it even started.

But the annual high school summer league provided one last chance to play together. Helias wrapped up its portion of the schedule Thursday night against Fatima in Westphalia.

"It was nice to play with them one last time," Helias shortstop Trevor Austin said. "It was great to get the chance not to leave on a down note like we did at the end of last year."

The summer league is normally for underclassmen to get the opportunity to prepare for the season next spring. But with the cancellation of the season this spring, coaches decided to allow graduated seniors to play this year if they chose. All eight Helias seniors did just that.

"It was a lot of fun being with all of these guys," Helias third baseman Zach Paschal said. "We knew we had a very good chance of getting back to the Final Four, but it was great to get another chance to play with these guys before we go to college."

For Helias coach Garrett Wiggans, it was great to get another chance to work with the group.

"I don't think as coaches we've completely been able to wrap our heads around we lost the spring season," he said. "It's a special group of kids and I'm glad they got a chance to play together."

The veteran group finished with a 15-1 record in four weeks of league play. Their overall experience played a big part in the success, but they also brought a winning mentality.

"It showed how good we are," Wiggans said. "Even without the pressure of the spring season this summer, we were still pretty good. We know we're not playing for a state championship, but it's still important to win baseball games.

"Every time you go between the lines, it's important to try to win. All of us know that's what is expected of us in this program. It's super important."

That's an attitude that has been stressed for the Crusaders since they were freshmen.

"Winning always makes it better," Paschal said.

But it wasn't always serious.

"I enjoyed this a lot," Helias pitcher Kaleb Haley said. "It was a little more relaxed because it was the summer, but it was still fun."

On Thursday, there were several position changes in the second game of the doubleheader with Fatima as Helias players manned positions out of the norm. Austin was out in right field for the final couple of innings, while Paschal threw an inning.

"We tried to make it a little more fun for them, these kids are pretty good athletes who have the ability to play in a lot of different spots," Wiggans said.

The eight seniors — Griffin Buschjost, Jason Haselhorst, Peyton Huddleston, Dawson Meyer and James Schaefer, along with Austin, Haley and Paschal — were close as a group.

"If we weren't playing on the same team, we were playing against each other growing up," Paschal said. "We've always had a close bond."

Austin is going on to play baseball at Missouri. But not all of the eight are playing in college.

"It was a good opportunity for our seniors, especially for the guys who aren't going to get the chance to play next year," Austin said. "Zach Paschal and Peyton Huddleston are two of my best friends, I've played with them since I was 5 years old."

While it was great to play this month, it doesn't make up for losing their senior seasons.

"Definitely not," said Haley, who will play at William Woods. "We definitely had the goal of getting back to the Final Four, with the ultimate goal of winning a state title. I know we would have had another great year."

You can't play a game with just eight players, so six underclassmen had the opportunity to play with the group. Wiggans hoped they used the last four weeks as a valuable learning experience.

"All eight of the seniors contributed this summer," Wiggans said. "They didn't always start, but they all did something to help us win.

"What I want for the other guys to take that away from this summer, that when they're number is called, they have to be ready to go. You have to step up."

Austin believes the future is bright for the baseball Crusaders.

"Our juniors will be good leaders for the program," he said. "It should be another pretty good year next spring."

Paschal won't be playing sports when he attends Missouri starting this fall. He was grateful to have one last chance to wear the blue and gold for the Crusaders.

"I've always had a special feeling for Helias, it really feels like home," Paschal said.

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