St. Elmo baseball coach Ryan Beccue couldn’t help but laugh.
Sitting at his desk in the coach’s office at St. Elmo High School recently, Beccue listened with amusement as Colton Booher reflected on his final spring season and the ‘slump’ that had him stressing early on.
‘I knew I’d come around and hit eventually,’ Booher said. ‘But it was just a crappy way to start.’
To hear Booher talk, you’d think he started the season 0 for 20. But Beccue quickly interjected and put things in proper perspective.
‘I think it was more like he was 2-for-7,’ said Beccue of a start most players would take in a heartbeat. ‘He thought he was in a major slump.’
‘I was,’ Booher insists.
And, in all fairness to the recent SEHS grad, he was struggling by his standards.
Coming off a fall season in which he raked at a .485 clip and blasted 10 homers in just 20 games, Booher’s early sub-.300 average was, indeed, a bit un-Scooby.
Fortunately for the The Leader-Union’s 2008 Baseball Player of the Year, he managed to emerge from his relatively slow start and return to form, putting the finishing touches on a record-breaking baseball career that has oftentimes been overshadowed by his considerable hoops exploits.
Booher finished the spring with an area-best .500 batting average, bringing his career mark to a salty .412 – just one of several SEHS batting records he now possesses.
He also finished with career school standards in hits (221), home runs (43), runs scored (177) and RBIs (163), in addition to establishing single-season benchmarks in hits (41), homers (10, twice) and runs (35).
Booher wasn’t too shabby on the mound, either, finishing with a 1.82 ERA in his final spring season and a 2.22 ERA overall during his senior year, including an area-best 143 strikeouts in 106 innings.
Those numbers probably would have left Booher with several all-time SEHS pitching records had former teammate and current Kaskaskia College ace Logan Mahon not set the bar sky high during his Eagles career.
Fortunately for Booher, he’ll get a chance to exact a little revenge on his buddy for keeping him from completely dominating SEHS’s record books when his new team, the Olney Central College Blue Knights, face KC in Great Rivers Athletic Conference play next year.
Booher’s all-around package – his aforementioned high average, his slick play at shortstop, his knowledge and enthusiasm for the game, and his 13 homers and 38 RBIs in as many games – are just a few of the reasons OCC coach Dennis Conley is excited about bringing Booher aboard as much as Beccue is dreading to see him go.
‘Colton is the best all-around player I’ve ever coached,’ said Beccue. ‘He is a major reason that St. Elmo baseball is now respected.’
Despite Booher’s numerous individual accomplishments, both parties seem to be the most proud of the latter.
Prior to Booher’s arrival, St. Elmo was a program many opponents subconsciously marked down in the win column before they even took the field.
‘The first couple years (I was here), it was just a hope-to-play-seven-innings type of thing,’ said Beccue, who just completed his ninth year as Eagles head coach. ‘But we slowly started changing that, and then guys like Colton and Logan came along, and they brought their buddies.’
Booher was part of a dedicated 10-man class that helped the Eagles pile up 86 wins over the past four years – the best such span in program history.
He is quick to credit fellow 2008 grads Rogelio Guerrero, Fletcher Morrison, Wade Nevergall, Robby Stolte, David Cameron, Dustin Blankenship, Bobby Fritcher, Zach Durbin and Trey Wright for the team’s success and his individual success.
‘Really, without all the other guys, we never could have accomplished anything,’ Booher said. ‘Ever since third grade out on the playground, my teammates have been with me. I just want to thank them for that. It’s been great.’
‘Colton’s class was a big reason things started changing around here,’ he said. ‘They did a lot for St. Elmo sports, that’s for sure.’
Booher led the way, no question, as he cracked the Eagles lineup during the first varsity game of his freshman year.
Such a feat would have been accomplishment enough for most freshmen, but Beccue not only expected Booher to earn a starting spot – he expected him to produce right away.
‘A lot of the time, we try to ease kids into things, but that wasn’t the case with him,’ Beccue said. ‘Ever since he got here, it was kind of understood that he had to do some things for us in order for us to be successful.’
Booher might have been daunted had he not expected even more from himself.
‘My goal, even as a freshman, was to break a few hitting records and try to match what (former Eagles standout) Aaron Grobengeiser did,’ Booher said.
Booher put himself in position to do just that by establishing himself as the rare breed of hitter who could hit for power without piling up a ton of strikeouts.
He made remarkable contact from the get-go, striking out just three times combined between his freshman fall and spring seasons.
Then, as he got older, Booher started wowing opponents with his power.
He started his junior year with a bang by launching three home runs in an Aug. 30, 2006, game against South Central. He had a similar binge at the start of his senior year, as he put together three consecutive multi-homer games.
‘I don’t think there’s a lot of times he tries to hit home runs,’ said Beccue of Booher’s power. ‘He just tries to hit the ball hard.’
Fortunately for the Eagles, on the rare occasion in which Booher wasn’t hitting the ball hard, he proved he could beat opponents with his arm alone.
Brownstown pitcher Jared Winters and the rival Bombers know that all too well.
Booher equaled his freshman-year strikeout total of three in as many at-bats against Winters in a game this past spring, and Winters would go on to record 17 strikeouts in a dominating performance.
But, fortunately for St. Elmo, Booher countered by allowing just one hit in nine innings before delivering the game-winning hit in the bottom of the ninth.
Booher had a similar effort against Winters earlier in the spring, as he had a no-hitter going with two outs in the seventh before a Jared Kious single forced him to settle for another one-hit shutout.
‘I just pitched good those two games,’ said Booher, who also tossed a five-inning no-hitter against Brownstown his sophomore year. ‘I don’t know if it was just because it was Brownstown or not. But I wasn’t hitting in either one of those games, so I had to do something.’
Booher pitched well far more often than not during his final season, even though his 7-8 record didn’t reflect it.
‘We had trouble scoring runs this spring,’ Beccue said. ‘I think that had a lot to do with the record.
‘When he was on the mound, we had a good chance to win. We put him out there in all the tough situations against the tough teams, too.’
‘Last year, Logan was pitching all our hard games, and I got a few more wins against easier teams,’ he said. ‘This year, I didn’t think I pitched bad against the good teams. It just didn’t come out our way.’
All told, Beccue’s high expectations for Booher were realized.
‘He just got better every year,’ Beccue said.
Still, Booher had just one regret during his high school career.
‘I really wanted to win a regional championship,’ said Booher, whose team reached the regional finals twice and was upset in the semifinals another time. ‘We got a chance to two years in a row and we just didn’t quite get it done.’
But after dominating at the high school level for so long, Booher seems anxious for a new challenge at the college level.
‘Oh yeah,’ Booher said. ‘I’m ready to step up and see what I can do. Our team should be pretty good, and I’m hoping we can get a conference championship and play as many games as we can there at the end in the spring.’
Beccue is confident Booher’s transition will be a smooth one for a number of reasons.
‘I think he’s prepared to go, not only as an athlete, but as a student,’ said Beccue.
Booher has been the rare student-athlete whose name appears on the high honor roll list nearly as often as it does in the headlines on local sports pages.
‘Grades have always been very important for me, and my mom, especially,’ Booher said. ‘She never let me slack off at all. I thank her for that.
‘Some of the bigger schools I visited, they were offering me more academic money than athletic money.’
Booher probably would have taken one of those offers at a bigger school had OCC not offered him a chance to play basketball as well.
Though he loves both sports – giving a slight edge to baseball when pressed to choose one over the other – Booher says the latter is also his best sport.
After his career at OCC, he said he’d like to play baseball at a four-year school, if not the professional level. But if things don’t work out on those fronts, he will likely have the academic credentials to make Plan B a reality.
Booher says he’d like to become an athletic trainer and, perhaps, get his Ph.D.
Regardless of what direction he winds up going, Beccue is confident Booher is ready for college, both on and off the field.
‘He’s been brought up the right way, so I don’t think there will be much that surprises him or much that he can’t handle,’ Beccue said. ‘I think he’s well-prepared, so I think it’ll be fun to see what the next two, three, four years and beyond can bring for him.’
Beccue admits it is tough to see Booher go.
‘It will definitely be different,’ said Beccue of a guy who spent about as much time in the coaches’ office as he did on the field/court during his four years at SEHS. ‘He’s brought a lot of enthusiasm and excitement to the baseball team and sports in general around here.’
Still, Beccue is anxious to see Booher play at the next level – especially when he and Mahon’s new teams hook up.
Given the opportunity to talk trash about his impending showdown with his buddy, Booher declined.
‘I think it’ll be exciting,’ Booher said. ‘Seeing him pitch for five, six years, I think I’d have the upper hand over some of the guys on the team. But he’s a great pitcher and I’m going to have to hit pretty good to get him.’
Beccue also declined to reveal who he thinks might have an edge.
And he has wisely chosen not to pick sides.
‘The other day, they asked me which hat I’m gonna wear to the game, Kaskaskia or Olney,’ said Beccue with a laugh. ‘I told them ‘neither.’ I’m wearin’ a St. Elmo cap.’
Thanks in large part to Booher, it’s a hat he can wear with even more pride than he did a few years ago.