Topeka Lawrence's Zephyrs likely would have made the trip to the Connie Mack West-Central regional tournament in Davenport, Iowa, this week whether they'd won the state championship or not.
But they took no chances, slapping Topeka Express for the second day in a row, 12-8, to win the state tournament here Sunday.
"That was a goal we set," Zephyrs coach Kent Earl said. "As it turns out, the region has an at-large position they hold open, and they'd dedicated it to Kansas. So had we not won, we'd probably have been invited anyway."
The Zephyrs, sponsored by the Lawrence Breakfast Optimists, ran their record to 40-7, marking the third straight year that the club has won at least 40 games.
They went 5-0 in the state tournament, taking the final early with four runs in the first inning and five in the second. Jay Belcher, 5-1, was the winning pitcher.
"THE EXPRESS is a young team," Earl said. "We talked about taking them out of the game quick and getting them discouraged, and that's what we did. Four in the first inning helped, and five in the second kind of buried them."
They almost weren't buried deep enough, though, the coach said.
"We couldn't find the strike zone," he said. "We gave them eight walks, and if you put that many runners on base and then let them have six doubles, you're going to give up some runs."
Earl wasn't worried that the Zephyrs' pitching trouble would continue.
"I think it was being tired," he said, "and that they'd faced our pitching the day before. It was a combination of things being in the tournament."
In fact, he said the Zephyrs might be in top form heading to its eight-team regional tournament, where they'll meet a team from Chicago in the opening round on Thursday.
"WE'RE PLAYING really well now, especially defensively," he said. "That's what we needed, to pull together and get our defense solidified where we don't help other teams."
They'll need a solid set of games, he said, to win the regional one of eight in the nation and earn a berth in the Connie Mack World Series in Farmington, N.M.
"Last year the Wichita Stars, which was an excellent ballclub, won the West-Central Region and went to the World Series," he said. "I anticipate it'll be a really tough tournament."
Lawrence Zephyrs 450 102 0 12 13 1
Topeka Express 030 131 0 8 8 3
Andy Peck, Jay Belcher (3), Chris White (6) and Darryl Monroe; Senne, Bryan (1), Burke (6) and Flowers. WP Belcher, 5-1. LP Senne.
2B Monroe 2, Lawrence; Anderson 2, Burke, Hess, Conoway, Martinek, Topeka.