Community R-6 brings home second state baseball trophy, rewarded after years of progress in program

By Jeremy Jacob, Sports Editor
Posted 6/3/23

Community R-6’s second Class 1 Final Four game ended up being a shutout loss like the previous day.

Day 1 State Baseball Photo Gallery

Day 2 State Baseball Photo Gallery

It was …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Community R-6 brings home second state baseball trophy, rewarded after years of progress in program


Community R-6’s second Class 1 Final Four game ended up being a shutout loss like the previous day.

Day 1 State Baseball Photo Gallery

Day 2 State Baseball Photo Gallery

It was also the Trojans’ second Final Four game in 22 years following its lone other appearance in 2001. Community lost 8-0 to No. 5 South Nodaway on Monday and was shut out 7-0 by No. 1 Cooter on Tuesday, but smiles were still strewn across the Trojans’ faces after capping a season where they earned their second-ever state trophy with a fourth-place finish and tied the school’s single-season wins record with a 19-7 record.

Head coach Joel Krato said Community had its opportunities against Cooter, who was looking to bounce back from a 9-0 loss on Monday to the now two-time defending state champion St. Elizabeth, but squandered a second-and-third situation in the first inning with one and then a bases-loaded chance with no outs in the second inning. Cooter came through in those moments, including a three-RBI triple by Brayson Green with two outs in the third inning, but Krato said Community’s season shouldn’t be diminished just because of two games.

At the end of the day, getting here is a great accomplishment,” Krato said. “I don't think anyone before the year started thought that Community R-6 is going to be a Final Four team. We continued to work hard, we continued to get better and we continued to believe in one another.

“So many kids this year had great moments, whether it would be Mason Carroll in the first game of the year hitting a go-ahead two-run home run to put us up against Wellsville or Tucker Cox in the sectional game (against Northland Christian) with two big hits or Brant Cope against New Franklin with a big two-out RBI double. That’s what was special about this group. Anybody on any given night could step up and make something happen.”

Cox almost had another big moment in the second inning, but the bases loaded situation with no outs was calmed down by Cooter’s reigning all-state pitcher Hayden Nazarenus as he fielded a ball earmarked for center field to turn a double play. Nazarenus wriggled out of a few jams and struck out seven while allowing five hits in seven innings. Community had another bad-luck ball as Carroll’s line drive was ensnared in the third inning before doubling off a runner.

Throughout this postseason, the Trojans have been able to overcome the odds. In their district alone, the Trojans outdueled all-state players Derek Rockett, of Higbee, and Cairo’s Logan Head before encountering the young and talented Northland Christian and Sacred Heart. Every challenge was surpassed, and even though the Trojans never crept into the state’s top 10 rankings, Krato had them working toward a state-level brand of baseball.

“We stayed relatively confident,” senior Ayden Meranda said. “Krato made sure our mentality was right when we came down here.”

“It’s honestly wild because nobody ever expected us to be here in a million years,” senior Tucker Cox said. “Krato knew. Who cares if we lost? Just being here was enough.”

“We had a lot of fun as a team,” senior Pacey Cope said. “Getting to experience all of the kids that actually played and how great of a coach Krato is to push us this hard to get here was great.”

Krato definitely never stopped pushing, all of his seniors said, as they each grew into starting players on a Final Four team, with some of them even earning all-conference honors. Cox was relegated to the bench during offensive innings after struggling at the plate early in the season, Cope started his baseball career back up again in eighth grade after a hiatus, and Meranda was named to the Central Activities Conference first team along with Gavin Allen and Carroll in his first varsity season that also involved him powering through the postseason with a broken hand.

The senior leader Allen had a landmark moment on Tuesday in his first Final Four outing and last contest as a Trojan before the next four years with William Woods. Allen finished with 5 2/3 innings after allowing 10 hits and three walks but striking out seven as he received congratulations from his teammates and coaches and a standing ovation from Community’s crowd.

“Before the game even started, obviously I wanted to win, but I didn’t care really if we won or lost,” Allen said. “Ending our senior seasons on this field instead of at home or some other field is 10 times better.”

That moment was earned after four years of growing under Krato’s watch, Allen said, as freshman year was “not the best time” for him.

“After all the briefings I got and yellings in his room when he closed the door, it has definitely helped me a lot and definitely helped me with my future too,” Allen said.

Krato said Allen put everything he had into Trojan baseball for four years as Krato was the one leading the applause as Allen moved to shortstop in the sixth inning. While there was still great emotion in Allen’s freshman year, it was more out of intensity as Krato molded him into the player he is today.

However, Krato wants to be clear that the respect shown Allen is not solely for the production he has given the Trojans but in response to the respect he has shown everybody else in the program.

“It’s not easy to be one of the best players on the team and the best teammate,” Krato said. “It’s very easy for him to be on the mound and say, ‘Why can’t you catch the ball? I catch the ball.’ It could’ve been that way, but he never did that. That’s part of the reason we had so much success because he made it fun for everybody.”

If you ask the Trojans, Krato’s tutelage has been a grueling learning experience at times. Sometimes, Krato could be viewed as a “jerk” who is “very good with his words” as he puts the team through the wringer with his practices.

“For the past couple weeks, he’s been having these practices where he tries to ‘break us’ — get in our head and try to make us start screaming at each other pretty much,” Cox said. “Practices like those made us get here so I think that was a really important factor.”

Allen said those practices were a better approach than Krato being “soft” with the team, Cox said he ”couldn’t have gotten a better coach ever,” Cope said Krato “understands the kids the most,” and Meranda said there is “just something about him.”

Coach Jeff Angel is preparing to take a less time-consuming volunteer coach role so he can watch his daughter, Emma, play softball at Hannibal-LaGrange, but was happy this season culminated so well after eight years of building from a combined 9-41 record from 2016-18. Krato has been a big reason why the program has turned around as he first saw that “something” five years ago.

“I’ve been with coach Krato for five years, and when he came in, he was a young fireball,” Angel said. “I was like, ‘Alright, this is what we need.’ I’m always go-go-go-go-go. I found somebody who can actually go-go-go more than I can. He got people believing, and he got kids believing. There’s a lot of good years to come. He’s the man.”

Krato is amazed how far this senior group has come as he has witnessed how diligent the kids are but tying the school wins record from the place they started when he took over is quite a lot of ground. He said the Trojans didn’t play the 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but that young team might have gone winless if they did play.

In 2020, Krato said Allen was the team’s top arm but threw 67 mph instead of the college-standard 80s and the team had “very, very, very limited baseball experience at best.” Based on how mental the game of baseball is, learning from not much of a basis can be information overload.

“It’s tough because you’re spending a lot of time just teaching them the basics of baseball,” Krato said. “Simple things like when there’s two outs, you run on a ball in play. 3-2 count with two outs, you’re stealing because you’re on the pitch. Things like that and things you don’t even think about like how to hold the runner on at first, we’re not trying to pick over at third, how to hold the runner on at second, what tagging up actually is, and what infield in is.”

The process starts anew every year when freshmen are introduced into the fray, Krato said, but he’s been successful because of the work of coach Angel and especially the type of kids he has been blessed with.

“Kudos to the kids for stepping up and being willing to learn,” Krato said. “It could be in one ear and out the other. Our kids do a great job of holding each other accountable and listening and teaching. I don’t always have to be everywhere at the same time at practice because I can go, ‘So-and-so, go teach them how to do this while I work with this.’ It’s awesome.”

The seniors said the Trojans’ belief in each other factored in heavily as they won a season-high eight straight games into the Final Four.

Much of the belief was in the formidable duo of Allen and Carroll on the mound as they combined for a 19 2/3 inning scoreless streak at one point in the playoffs and hadn’t allowed more than four runs in a game they pitched since a nine-inning 5-4 loss at Cairo on April 28. Krato said, without Community’s 1-2 punch on the mound, the Trojans wouldn’t be there, but the same can be said for the group that seemed to find a way to score runs, whether it would be through passed balls, home runs or through bunting. A group can’t accomplish that without being close to one another.

“A lot of teams say family, but I truly believe that because look at all of these kids just hanging out,” Krato said as he pointed to his players gathered after Tuesday’s game. “They truly are a family.”

 The Trojans attended a Springfield Cardinals game together on Sunday after they left the school earlier that day and then went miniature golfing at Fun Acre on Monday. Cope had fun with all of that, but he’ll cherish all of that because of who was with him.

“Probably one of the things I enjoyed the most was just going back to the hotel and just hanging out as a team,” Cope said. “Just getting those last few experiences in before some of us never play again.”


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here