Lawrence High playing baseball the last weekend of May has become an annual ritual.
For the fifth consecutive time and ninth time in 13 years, the Lions have reached the Class 6A state baseball tournament. No. 3 seed LHS (14-6) will play No. 6 Dodge City (13-9) at 6:30 p.m. in the first round at Wichita State's Eck Stadium. The winner will play at 12:30 p.m. Saturday against Wichita Heights or Olathe South.
The Lions have reached the state semifinals three straight years and have made back-to-back appearances in the championship, winning it in 1996.
``There's more pressure getting to state than actually winning it,'' LHS senior shortstop Kyle Cook said. ``We feel we have the ability to win it.''
The Lions survived a scare from Leavenworth in last week's regional final in Topeka. LHS led by five runs early before needing three runs in the top of the sixth to force extra innings. Lawrence eventually won, 14-11, in 10 innings.
That pressure-packed game could come in handy this weekend.
``They experienced and overcame situations that could happen at state, being an out away from elimination and a guy on third base with two outs,'' LHS coach Dirk Wedd said. ``Hopefully those are opportunities they learned from and gained experience.''
Slumping offensively before regional, the Lions banged 25 hits in the two regional games. The players believe a stop at an area golf driving range a day after losing 5-2 to Free State helped their offensive surge.
``We didn't hit the ball well the last 10 days going into regional,'' Wedd said. ``We took them out to the driving range. Since they couldn't hit a baseball, we put golf balls on a tee and let them whale away. They all think that's the key now.''
Outfielder Billy Naff leads the Lions in hitting with a .414 batting average. He went 4-for-9 with five RBIs at regional. Second baseman Todd Heitshusen is hitting .400 with a team-high 32 RBIs.
LHS senior right-hander Jeff Davis, 4-1 this season and 11-1 in two years, will start on the mound against Dodge City. Sophomore left-hander Matt Wiedeman (4-1) is the Lions' No. 2 starter.
Sophomore Jon Murray and Cook relieved Wiedeman in the regional final. Murray allowed no earned runs in 5 1/3 innings against Leavenworth before Cook finished.
``All of the sudden he started throwing the way we expected him to throw,'' Wedd said of Murray. ``He added a little more depth to the staff.''
Wedd is also thrilled the tournament is at Eck Stadium, regarded by many as the premier baseball facility in the state.
``It's a big reward,'' Wedd said. ``I've probably led the charge to get 6A to a good venue. Hopefully some of the bellyaching paid off.''
A Sunflower League team has won the past five Class 6A state titles. ... LHS senior Kyle Cook leads the team in stolen bases (36) and hit by pitches (12). He was hit four times in the regional final. ... The Lions' string of five straight state appearances is the longest active streak in 6A baseball. ... LHS, Wichita Heights and Olathe East are the lone returners form last year's state tournament. ...
-- Steve Rottinghaus' phone message number is 832-7152. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.