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PAGLIA: This ELCA team has the right ingredient

Brian Paglia, bpaglia@henryherald.com

Brian Paglia, bpaglia@henryherald.com

To reach this stage, to slog through 31 games and four months and 19-game winning streaks and decisive Game Threes, takes a myriad of ingredients, but since Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy baseball coach Doug Campbell has done it before, he ought to know what it takes.

The Chargers are back in the Class A championship for the first time since 2007 when they were swept in a doubleheader by Calvary Day. Call it revenge, because the year before ELCA defeated Calvary Day in three games for the state title.

That was Campbell’s first year and 10 games on the job with ELCA baseball. He was interim head coach during the 2006 state tournament. The next year ELCA brought back a large core of seniors and made another run.

Now, seven years later, the Chargers are on another deep run, as deep as it gets, and Campbell has the hindsight of the finals hiatus to understand how it all happened before and is happening right now.

No. 1, talent.

No. 2, pitching depth.

But, most importantly ...

“Really, aside from the physical side of things,” Campbell said, “it takes leadership from your seniors.”

Look no further than why the Chargers are on this stage. The group of infielder/pitcher Patrick Busscher, second basemen D.J. Curl, outfielder Jacob Heyward, catcher Cameron Ragsdale and pitcher Joshua Smith have been at the forefront this season.

Curl has helped set the table at the top of the lineup. Heyward and Ragsdale have helped clear the bases with big hits. Busscher has been equal parts effective at the plate (.356, 1 HR, 16 RBI) and on the mound (2-2, 3.12 ERA). Smith has made an impressive return from Tommy John surgery to become the Chargers’ No. 2 starter throughout these playoffs.

They’ve played like seniors. But, perhaps more crucially, they’ve acted like seniors.

That was the defining trait of those 2006-07 teams to Campbell. A core of Campbell’s son, Jake Davies, Harry Nutter and Brian Satterfield certainly had talent, but Campbell said they also had the intangible qualities that inspire teammates.

“They were self-motivated,” Campbell said.

Campbell couldn’t say that about Busscher, Curl, Heyward and Co. last season. Yes, they were a force to be reckoned with, going 25-7 and reaching the Class A quarterfinals.

But losing to George Walton Academy in three games wasn’t the ending Campbell envisioned. The talent was there, but something was missing.

“Last year, this team wasn’t nearly as mature,” Campbell said. “This year the team hasn’t had to be motivated.”

There’s no formula for how a class of players will move through from freshman to senior year. Campbell has seen exceedingly talented teams never reach their potential. He’s admired teams with less talent overachieve.

Now, another ELCA senior group gets to write its own ending.

“They should’ve been in the finals and they knew that,” Campbell said. “No doubt we came up short and they’ve been hungry to get here.”

Brian Paglia covers sports for the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald newspapers. He can be reached at bpaglia@henryherald.com. On Twitter? Follow him @BrianPaglia.