By CONOR NICHOLL
Columbus coach Mick Tedlock easily recalls the near misses in recent regional championship games and the cancellation of a promising 2020 season because of the coronavirus pandemic. Tedlock, a 1989 Columbus graduate and a highly acclaimed special education teacher, has coached baseball for many years, including six-plus as Titan head coach.
Columbus has never made the state baseball tournament. The Titans had sub-.500 seasons in ’15 and ’16 and posted a winless record in ’17. The following spring, Columbus lost to Parsons in the regular season. Parsons featured Luke Wolgamott, the 4A player of the year. In the regional final, Columbus nearly upset Parsons. The Titans were one out away in the eighth inning before Parsons came back.
In ’19, Columbus was well over .500, though was not able to reach state. Two seasons ago, Tedlock had one of his better senior groups including two who went onto college baseball, though the Titans didn’t have a season. Last spring, Columbus had the high school baseball debut of a talented class that included 12 current juniors.
The juniors feature Cade Saporito, Seth Stover, Brett Hamilton, Landin Midgett, Kayden Cox, Jayden Hale, Cole Minor and Kolt Ungeheuer. They have played together since six, seven years old. Tedlock coaches junior high football and basketball and knew of the talented corps.
“When you get kids that do that, that stay together like that, you can see it when they get into high school how that really, it helps a high school coach especially,” Tedlock said.
Last spring, Columbus finished 12-9 and lost a heatbreaker to Frontenac in the regional championship game. Columbus had a two-run lead entering the bottom of the seventh.
“It’s one of those things that just burned,” Tedlock said. “We are right there, we are right there, and these kids are just working hard to get it.”
This season, Columbus’ motto is “to finish.” The Titans are currently one of six undefeated squads in 3A with a 10-0 record. Only 12-0 Humboldt has more wins without a loss in the classification. Columbus opens earlier than many squads and started March 19 with two wins against Seneca and Wyandotte.
On March 28 and 29, Columbus gritted out wins against Labette County (5-1) and Parsons (4-1). Against Parsons, the Titans scored all its runs with two outs. On Tuesday, Columbus swept Galena, 17-0 and 6-2 in a remarkable night for Ungeheuer.
In the first contest, Ungeheuer threw a three-inning perfect game on a remarkable 17 pitches. Tedlock has continually stressed first-pitch strikes.
Because of the low pitch count, Ungeheuer started Game 2 and earned the win in that contest. He also hit a home run. Tedlock went back and watched the perfect game on local television. Columbus scored nine runs in the first and eight in the second.
“I have never in my life seen something like that,” Tedlock said. “Kolt came out, and he is just dealing. I mean, he’s just throwing strikes.”
Columbus softball is also 9-0. Longtime coach Aimee Saporito and Tedlock have known each other for many years.
“A great group of girls,” Tedlock said.
The teams have taken advantage of the new activities center and don’t have to have late practices.
“They have worked hard, and they have played a lot of baseball in the summers, too, and they love the game, and then we had a rough (regional) loss in the bottom of the seventh (last spring),” Tedlock said.
Columbus has two seniors: Jaxson Haraughty and Jake Scibor. Haraughty is an exceptional athlete who was the Titans’ standout quarterback. Haraughty’s dad, Troy, is an assistant coach. Troy and Tedlock have known each other since kindergarten. They played college baseball together at Coffeyville Community College and Pittsburg State University. Tedlock called Jaxson a “great kid” and a “real piece of our team.”
Tedlock has taught special education adaptive PE for 18 years. In 2020, he earned the Kansas Adaptive Teacher of the Year award from the Kansas Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance. Tedlock called his teaching job “very, very rewarding.”
“I am not a big award person,” he said. “I don’t do all that, but that one is pretty special.”
Tedlock has greatly enjoyed coaching this group, too. Many players, especially the key juniors, work in the offseason and on their own. They have played a lot of summer baseball.
“Had a little chip on their shoulder,” Tedlock said. “…We have got to learn to finish games and go one game at a time, and that’s what they have been doing. They have been working hard and having fun in practice, and it’s a fun group, and they are fun to coach.”
Minor leads with a .500 average, while Ungeheuer is hitting .464. Hamilton has a .438 average, and Haraughty is batting .429. Stover and Cox are at .333. Columbus has a 1.84 team earned-run average and a 71/23 strikeout to walk rate. Ungeheuer is 4-0 in 19.2 innings. Stover and Scibor are each 2-0.
Hamilton plays first base, Minor is at centerfield. Midgett starts at catcher. Haraughty and Ungeheuer are the middle infield, and Saporito has played some at third base.
“The leader of the team,” Tedlock said. “Landen has done so much, and he is a very smart kid, and he is one that anybody would love to have on a team.”
The roster looks to achieve more history in the next month. Columbus is in the Galena regional with Frontenac (5-0), Riverton (5-2), Neodesha (4-2) and Caney Valley (4-3). Columbus has a challenging back half stretch with Labette County on April 21, along with doubleheaders of Colgan, Girard, Riverton and Frontenac.
“We have got a tough, tough regional,” Tedlock said. “I still think – and everybody will say it’s the toughest regional in the state.”