Toppmeyer: 25 years later, memories of a hannibal men’s softballteam’s state championship remain fresh

By BLAKE TOPPMEYER Herald-Whig Sports Writer HANNIBAL, Mo. — Twenty-five years later, Kirk Wilson stillremembers the phone calls quite well. The first one came before 8 a.m. on a Sunday, the second day of theMissouri state softball fast-pitch tournament in Jefferson City,Mo. The O’Donnell’s Men’s Fast Pitch Team called its sponsor, JimO’Donnell, to let him know of the situation going into the finalday of action.

The team was in the loser’s bracket after Day 1 andfaced an uphill climb to the title game. “I told him, ‘Jim, we’ve got to win six games today,” saidWilson, a Hannibal native and one of O’Donnell’s pitchers. O’Donnell was tied up with work that day at his funeral home inHannibal and couldn’t make it to the tournament, so the players andtheir wives kept the phone updates coming. “That was long before cell phones so we just threw some quarters inthe phone and just kept calling him,” Wilson said.

“If you knewJimmy, he was such a big fan, and he loved his team so much.” The wins kept coming, and so did the phone calls. The best news,however, was saved for an in-person visit after O’Donnell’sdefeated a squad from Marshall 4-0 to win the 1987 statechampionship. The team went 6-0 on that Sunday and 9-1 for thetournament. “We never did call him after we got done,” said Andy Sherman, aHannibal native who was the team’s catcher. “We waited until we gotback to Hannibal, and we went over to a friend’s house, and we hadthe state championship trophy sitting on the hood of a car. Welding Turning Rolls

And wecalled and said, ‘Jimmy you’ve got to come over.’ “He didn’t know we’d actually won the state tournament until hestarted walking down the driveway and saw the state championshiptrophy on the hood of the car. He was in total shock.” The 1987 championship would be the first of four state titles forO’Donnell’s, as the team also claimed championships in 1988, 1989and 1991. The squad finished the 1988 season ranked ninth in thenation. At 6:15 tonight, O’Donnell’s softball teams will be honored beforethe Hannibal Cavemen’s game against the Springfield Sliders atClemens Field. Welding Turning Rolls Manufacturer

The ceremony will commemorate the 25th anniversary of the 1987state championship team, and Jim Hoskins, a player/manager for thatteam, is slated to throw out the first pitch. Several other formerplayers will be on hand. “It’s going to be special,” Wilson said. “It’s a chance for all theguys to get back together again.” O’Donnell’s team really took off in the 1980s when several playersfrom another Hannibal squad, Milt’s, joined forces withO’Donnell’s. The 1987 squad featured a core of players from Hannibal and somefrom the surrounding towns. Tank Rotator Manufacturer

Four members from that team — pitchersWilson and Ed Givan, outfielder Carlos Buckner and Hoskins, whoplayed third base — later became All-Americans. The team took off in 1987 about three or four weeks before thestate tournament. That’s when Givan, who had been playing for adifferent team, joined O’Donnell’s, giving the squad a 1-2 pitchingpunch few could match. Wilson earned in the win in the first game of the finals againstMarshall, and Givan took the rubber for the second game. He silenced the opposition, and with three outs to go, the playerscould start to sense that the championship was theirs.

“We’d waited all these years,” Wilson said. “I mean, we’d playedsince the early ’70s. Everybody did on one team or the other fromHannibal. And we’re three outs away from the state championship,and I’m going, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.

After all theseyears, we’re going to win this.’ It was 4-0 then, and you just knewit was going to happen.” Wilson and his teammates didn’t have to wait much longer. Givanneeded just three pitches to get the final three outs, inducing aground out, a pop out and a ground ball to shortstop Roger Waltonto end the game. “Roger got the final ground ball, which was apropos because he wasthe best ball player on the team by far,” Wilson said. Walton’s throw to first base completed a comeback from the loser’sbracket unlike anything that had ever been accomplished in thehistory of the state tournament.

“We knew we weren’t going to get beat that day,” Sherman said. “Wejust had it in our hearts that day.” Wilson left the team after the 1990 season and went on to win aMen’s Masters National Championship in 1991 with a different club.He was later inducted into the Missouri Amateur SoftballAssociation Hall of Fame. Still, neither of those accolades elicited the pride he felt afterwinning that first state title. “1987 was awful special,” Wilson said. “Everybody was just elated.It was the culmination of a lot of hopes and dreams over a lot ofyears, because you never think it’s going to happen after a while,and all of a sudden it does.” When it finally does happen, it creates a memory you don’t forget,not even after two and a half decades.

— btoppmeyer@whig.com/221-3367.

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