Last year, Shawnee Mission Northwest rode its underdog status all the way to the high school Class 6A state baseball crown.
On Wednesday night at KU's Hoglund-Maupin Stadium, the Cougars won it all in the role as a favorite. SM Northwest, the tourney's No. 2 seed, edged sixth-seeded Wichita Northwest, 7-6, in the championship game for its second straight state crown.
"You like to win it as the underdog," said Cougar catcher Brandon English, who went two-for-four with four RBI in the championship game. "Last year, nobody gave us a chance. It's hard to compare the two, but I know it feels the same when you win it."
The Cougars last spring entered state with a sub.-500 record and a No. 8 seed before emerging with the title. This year, SM Northwest entered with a 17-5 record after winning 17 of its final 19 games.
"We had so much confidence," English said. "We've gone 20-2 since we started the season 0-3. We've been hitting the ball real well. We had no doubt in our minds that we could win it."
THE GRIZZLIES struck first Wednesday. Wichita Northwest took advantage of four walks and a passed ball to post a 2-0 lead in the first inning. In the top of the second inning, Kevin Polian, a KU football signee, sparked a three-run frame with a two-run double as the Grizzlies stretched their advantage to 5-0.
"We were down 5-0 after 1 innings, but they knew it was going to take a lot more than five runs to beat us," said SM Northwest coach Rich Kuzydym. "That takes a lot of character. They never did let down. They stayed right up."
The Cougars started their comeback in the bottom of the third inning, when English laced a two-run single and later scored to cut the gap to 5-3. Todd Burris doubled in the fifth and scored on a Casey Whittier single to close to 5-4. In the sixth, English ripped a two-run double, and Jay Winiger scored on a wild pitch to put the Cougars on top for good.
"I was talking with (SM Northwest shortstop) Joe Thornburg before I hit that double and I was saying, `There's no way we're going to get out,'" English said. "We thought we were invincible."
THE GRIZZLIES threatened in the seventh when Pollian hit a two-out double and scored on Terric Townsend's single, but Wichita Northwest pitcher Jason Jordan struck out to end the threat.
In the third-place game, Topeka Seaman, making its first appearance in the state tournament, defeated Wichita South, 7-6.
The Vikings had fallen into the consolation bracket with a 10-0 run rule-shortened loss to SM Northwest in Wednesday's semifinals. Wichita Northwest had stopped top-seeded Wichita South, 7-3, in the other semi.
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