Alexandria baseball

File photo | The Herald Bulletin

Alexandria's Kole Stewart throws to first after fielding the ball as the Tigers played Pendleton Heights in the first round of the Nick Muller Memorial Baseball Tournament in April.

ALEXANDRIA — Alexandria's lone baseball state title exists primarily as myth or legend for the current team.

None of the 2019 Tigers were born when the program defeated Evansville Mater Dei 4-3 for the inaugural Class 2A championship 21 years ago. In fact, several of their parents likely hadn't even met.

So head coach Jeff Closser — whose son J.D. was named Mr. Baseball in 1998 as the catalyst for that title team — hasn't spent much time discussing the past with his players.

That doesn't mean the Tigers are unaware of the footsteps in which they walk.

On Saturday at Kokomo Municipal Stadium, Alexandria (27-6) will battle Whiting (15-11) in the Class 2A North Semistate. This is the first time the program has forged this deep into the postseason since the state championship run.

And the Tigers have a chance to match that feat with two more wins.

“It feels great,” sophomore second baseman Kole Stewart said after a recent practice. “It’s wonderful. It’s crazy, actually, the fact that it hasn’t happened in 20 years, and this is the team that can do it.”

Stewart has a more tangible connection to that legendary run than most. His uncle, Dustin Musick, played first base and went 1-for-2 with an RBI in the championship game.

Like his nephew, Musick hit No. 2 in the order. It was his job to set the table for J.D. Closser, hitting in the three-hole.

Stewart and Musick shared a brief conversation early in the season about what the '98 team accomplished and the potential for the current squad.

“Really just the camaraderie, how they came up together,” Musick said of what he saw in the current team that made him think this kind of success was possible. “Those boys play so well as a team. The talent speaks for itself, and they're all competitive. They're willing to put in the hard work, like we did. But, really, the biggest thing is they're just having fun.”

Alexandria has been steadily building toward this moment with three sectional titles in the past four years. And the possibility of a deep postseason run has been discussed long before many of the current players first stepped on a varsity diamond.

The sophomore class has been targeted for big things since its Little League days, and Stewart said the juniors might be even stronger.

Senior Trey Stokes was named to participate in the North-South All-Star Classic, and there's talent dripping throughout the roster.

So the idea of playing well into June wasn't too big for this team.

“We’ve always had it in the back of our heads,” Stewart said. “We didn’t talk about it much. We didn’t want to jinx ourselves, but it’s always been in the back of our head.”

Comparisons to 1998 likely are inevitable.

The baseball team once again is the talk of the town, and even the head coach isn't immune to the debate.

In fact, he fielded a particularly relevant phone call on the topic recently.

“It’s pretty cool,” Coach Closser said. “J.D. called me the other night and said, ‘Well, you guys couldn’t beat us.’ So we’re back and forth, back and forth. I said, ‘I don’t know, but we’d sure like to play you.’”

Musick laughed when told about that conversation and said the current squad likely would give their elders a run for their money. But, of course, he believes his team ultimately would come out on top.

He hasn't had the opportunity to watch Alexandria as much this season as he'd like. But that's going to change at semistate.

“I've definitely got my seat reserved for this weekend,” Musick said.

Baseball always has been a big part of Stewart's life.

His older brother, Keegan, also played for the Tigers, and he's friends with many players who suited up in recent seasons.

Those players — and every other class in the past 21 years — have helped lay the foundation for the current success.

Stewart feels like each of those previous teams has a vested interest in this year's run. So he and his teammates are playing for more than themselves.

If that reality brings with it added pressure, however, it's hardly evident.

Coach Closser described the Tigers as a “loose group,” and Stewart said nothing has been different this week from any other game preparation this year.

Whiting is a proud program with a solid tradition looking to break through to the state finals for the first time.

Alexandria is hoping to awaken echoes from the past, and the players can already feel the community support.

As the team arrived home from the regional in Walton around 11:30 p.m. Saturday, fans poured out of their houses to celebrate as the bus rolled by.

It's no different when players encounter fans around town.

Everybody wants to know if this is the year the Tigers add a second giant replica of the state of Indiana to the program's trophy case.

Stewart's response is another indicator of the confidence this year's team has in building its own legacy.

“Every person I see are telling me good job, congratulations and asking us if we think we’re gonna make it any farther,” he said. “Like, is that really a question?”

THB sports editor George Bremer has covered the Indianapolis Colts since 2010. He occasionally sports a beard that can rival Andrew Luck's, but he lacks arm strength and durability.