ST. JOSEPH — Two former students from Platte County helped the St. Joseph Mustangs to win their sixth MINK League title.
Much of the success for the Mustangs this season can be credited to the performance of their pitchers with throwers like Jake Purl and Mack Stephenson on the roster.
Jake Purl graduated from Park Hill South High School in 2015 and is currently attending Missouri Western State University. This summer was his fourth and final season with the Mustangs and he is now able to pass along a tradition the organization has built for itself over its 11-year run.
“As a freshman coming in with a bunch of older guys who had played here multiple years kind of took me under their wing and taught me the ins and outs of what’s right and what’s wrong with the St. Joe Mustangs and the history of it,” Purl said. “Now being a senior I’m kind of passing it on to the younger guys so it’s cool to see it evolve from Coach Matt Johnson to now Johnny Coy and I think it’s heading in the right direction.”
Purl, as a relief pitcher had the best ERA of 0.00 for the Mustangs in his 10.2 innings pitched through 10 games, striking out 27. He went 2-0 with two saves.
Purl got the final out of the championship game, tossing two innings in an 18-10 win over Ozark in Game 2 of the best-of-three series.
Mack Stephenson graduated from West Platte High School in 2016 and is currently majoring in Business Administration at William Jewell College. For his second year as a Mustang, Stephenson has started eight games with four wins, 27.2 innings pitched, 1.63 ERA and 37 strikeouts.
In the opening game of the championship series, Stephenson fanned five, giving up six hits and one run in six innings to earn the victory.
Growing up 30 minutes away from St. Joseph, Stephenson still heard about and wanted to play for the Mustangs.
“Even in Weston you hear about the team having such a good history,” Stephenson said. “I came up here to watch Drew Standifer who went to Jewell with me for a year, the crowd was nuts, the team was Godly good. It was just a really cool atmosphere.”
For Stephenson, the opportunity to play for the Mustangs is more special because he came from a smaller town high school which are sometimes overlooked during summer collegiate baseball.
“It’s awesome that they gave me a chance because there’s a lot of small school guys that feel like they get snuffed just because of the small school title,” Stephenson said. “You can be very talented but can get turned down because people think ‘he’s only good because he went to a small school’ so for them to give me an opportunity to come here and let me play and prove myself; I really appreciate the opportunity that Johnny gave me.”
Compared to other teams, St. Joseph brings a different level of passion and atmosphere that is not seen elsewhere in the MINK League and leaves an impact on the players after they leave.
“The memories and the fans and the atmosphere of this league,” Purl said. “You may go some places in this league and there’s 10 fans but when you come to St. Joe they act like it’s professional baseball and you really have to cherish that; it really makes you want to play better.”
While the Mustangs’ season is a short two months, many players who could be strangers quickly grow friendships that will last a lifetime.
“You come in here total strangers on day one but Johnny, Preston (Bailey) and (Jeremy) Franke and all of the coaches do such a great job, have such a laid-back environment and we spend all of this time together,” Stephenson said. “You get to know these guys for two months and then you’re almost heartbroken whenever you have to say goodbye to them at the end of the season.”