By BLAKE TOPPMEYERHerald-Whig Sports Writer
A group of about 10 Quincy Gems stood in a circle behind second base at QU-Stadium on Wednesday night, talking, laughing and smoking cigars.
Nearly an hour and a half earlier, the Gems had wrapped up the Prospect League championship by defeating the West Virginia Miners 5-0.
Now, there was no hurry to leave the field. It's easy to linger in the moment of being a champion.
"There's nothing better than winning," Gems third baseman Bryan Lippincott had said moments earlier.
This group had the feel of a championship team from the start of the season, when they won 14 of their first 15 games. From there, they really never let up.
"No doubt, one of the best teams I've ever been a part of," said Josh Janway, who entered in relief of starting pitcher Taylor Robson in the eighth inning Wednesday and finished the shutout.
For many of the players, this wasn't the first time they'd experienced the thrill of being a champion. Several have won state titles in various high school sports or been a part of conference champion teams in college.
Still, that didn't cheapen the moment Wednesday night.
"In three years I haven't been able to dogpile, but this takes me back to memories of being a champion," said Janway, who won state football and baseball titles his senior year at Parkview Baptist School in Baton Rouge, La. "It really does feel good. It never gets old, the dogpile never gets old."
For others, such as second baseman John Pace, the Gems provided the avenue to winning their first championship of any sort.
Pace had a rough top of the eighth Wednesday, when he committed two errors, but he more than made up for that with his three-run double in the bottom half of the inning that essentially put the game away.
Like so many others on this team, Pace recognized back in June what this group was capable of achieving.
"Me and Coach Martin came to the back of the bus after a game, and we were talking about this day, and I was like, ‘I've never been a part of it. I've been on a lot of teams but never been a part of it,'" Pace said. "It feels unbelievable. You work so hard, and then when see it pay off, it's all worth it."
An old baseball adage says it takes good pitching and defense to win a championship, but the Gems did it their own way. That was with an offense that made them feel as if they were never out of a game.
Including the postseason, the Gems had a 14-12 record in games they didn't score first, making them the league's only team with a winning record in such games.
"We just had that confidence, that no matter what the score is, no matter where we're at in the game, we just have to get the bats going and get it done," Pace said.
Quincy's offense led the league in batting average, runs scored and home runs. It featured left-handed sluggers Chris Serritella and Lippincott, who combined to tally 27 home runs.
The duo made it a habit to blast mammoth home runs well beyond the right-field wall and onto the Quincy University football field.
"Those two together were absolutely special, possibly one of the best 3-4 combinations that this league has seen, maybe ever," Quincy manager Chris Martin said.
In an ironic twist, the Gems' offense was relatively quiet in the championship game.
All the while, Robson posted zero after zero and helped Quincy maintain a 1-0 lead until the offense finally arrived with a four-run eighth inning.
Robson provided a little vindication for a pitching staff that struggled at times this season.
"It's just nice to see it all come together," Martin said.
That's part of what being a champion is all about.