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A Season To Remember

BURGI REFLECTS BACK ON MUSTANGS’ MAGICAL SEASON by Graham Thomas | June 16, 2022 at 9:01 a.m.
BENNETT HORNE/MCDONALD COUNTY PRESS Former McDonald County baseball coach Kevin Burgi gives instructions to the Mustangs during a game in the 2022 season. Burgi resigned his position after the season to move into an assistant principal role at MCHS.

ANDERSON -- Kevin Burgi is walking away from his coaching career at McDonald County after what he's called "the most fun I've had in baseball."

That says a lot for a guy who's won state championships as a high school standout at Valley View in Jonesboro, Ark., and also was part of championship teams in American Legion and a successful Slippery Rocks Sliders team in the Prospect League.

"I go back and think about one summer I had as a player in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania," Burgi said. "We had a lot of dudes who loved baseball. We were not the most talented group by any means, but we still went and won our league and ended up playing for the title in our Prospect League. It was a fun group. We played with guys from all over the country."

That was the summer of 2011. Burgi remembers going and watching a young Pittsburgh Pirates team at PNC Park in nearby Pittsburgh that was just starting to get good.

The love of baseball was everywhere.

"That was really fun because we just had a lot of guys who wanted to be there," Burgi said. "As a coach, I compare that summer to this spring because we did not have guys dreading practice. We never had guys dreading the work. We had guys that constantly wanted to get better and better."

Burgi recalls a time late this season when the Mustangs weren't hitting the ball great.

"We weren't swinging it well at the end of the year," he said.

Burgi suggested to the seniors, after the team lost to Aurora, that they take a few days off and get back at it after a break.

The seniors rejected the idea.

"They wanted to practice," he said. "They wanted to keep getting better. That is the perfect story to describe that group. That group wanted to work. They did what we asked them to. They're high school kids; you've always got to keep your thumb on them, but that was a group that loved the game, no doubt."

Burgi, who's been McDonald County's baseball coach the last four seasons, is moving into an assistant principal's role at the high school this upcoming school year.

But in the aftermath of one of the most successful seasons in Mustang baseball history, including 22 wins, a Big 8 West Conference and overall championship and finishing first place in the district, there's still a bit of a baseball hangover.

"One of the reasons this has been such a fun year, one, because we've been really successful," Burgi said. "Two, we've had unbelievable kids, and with your kids, you coach families as well. Our families have been awesome."

Burgi said the community support this past season -- one in which the Mustangs debuted their new turf baseball field -- has been tremendous.

"We've had unbelievable buy-in," Burgi said. "We've had unbelievable support from parents, teachers, administration and we've been able to coach kids the way we've wanted to. I think we've treated them right as a result. But at the same time, it's not just me. Coach (Heath) Alumbaugh, Coach Kyle Smith, Coach (Bo) Bergen that helped us do this and get to two Big 8 West titles and conference title and a school record in wins. It's just a big combination of the system that was already in place here. That was big."

Burgi and Alumbaugh recalled in the offseason how the team had to be creative in its practice plans with the baseball field unavailable due to installing the turf field.

"I think that was the most fun part of the spring," Alumbaugh said. "The kids embraced it."

The team would practice on the football field, or the junior high field. They'd hit at Soggy Bottom, the field by the superintendent's office.

"It was not pretty," Burgi said. "The foul ball situation was awful."

Said Alumbaugh: "You talk about resilience? Kids wading into the trees and vines to get foul balls. Roman Goswick, I think spent two hours out there just wading through vines and everything to get foul balls. It was big."

The team also practices at nearby Seneca and Neosho on the weekends.

When the team used the football field, they had to wait until track and field and soccer were finished.

"Honestly, it was fun because we'd go up to our meeting room every day, let traffic clear out," Burgi said. "I'd go over our practice plan. We were never together until the end of practice. We had three groups going. You never heard a word or complaint about it. It would have been easy to say 'Our field's not done. This is stupid. Why are we practicing on a patch of grass that's been flood land? Nothing -- you never heard complaining. Why are championships won? Because you've got guys that buy in. That's what happened."

It's also important to factor in that the players on this team did not have a 2020 season because of the covid-19 pandemic. They did play summer ball that year, and the Mustangs had a strong season in 2021, but the lost 2020 still had its impact.

"That's a group I think of a lot," Burgi said of the 2020 seniors. "I don't know if we would have won conference. I don't know what we would have done, but some of the things we would have hit the humps we hit that junior year for some of those seniors in their sophomore year. You wonder what else could have happened."

When Burgi took the job in 2018 he said the foundation was already there.

"It's been our kids," Burgi said. "It's been what was the groundwork that was laid before us. I took over a program that was in pretty good shape. There wasn't much that needed changing. We got lucky. We've had great community support, and I think our community support honestly might be the number one reason we've had success over the years."

Burgi said he visits with other coaches and talks about things they've had to deal with "that we've never had to deal with in McDonald County."

Because of all that, Burgi feels like he's leaving the program in good hands under the leadership of recently hired Alumbaugh and his staff.

The Mustangs return six of nine starters and several pitchers.

Family factors in as well.

"I've thought it was a good time," Burgi said. "Obviously, it's a good time for me and my family adding another one."

Burgi said his two older children were in attendance at most of the games.

"My son was having an awesome time watching baseball," he said, "and now I get to watch it with him."

  photo  BENNETT HORNE/MCDONALD COUNTY PRESS Former McDonald County baseball coach Kevin Burgi cheers on the Mustangs during a game during the 2022 season.

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