Archive for Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Raiders favored to win zone

July 22, 2003

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It's not enough that the Lawrence Raiders have one of the state's most talented baseball teams entering this week's American Legion Zone Tournament at Free State High Field.

Lawrence is 32-10 and the defending zone champion, but it doesn't matter. Raiders coach Carl Brooks isn't taking any chances.

After two days off, the Raiders held a two-hour practice Sunday evening, going through batting practice, fielding drills and some other, more unusual options.

"We might put in a wrinkle or two that would give us an edge," Brooks said. "It wouldn't be a back-breaker type of thing that's real obvious, but something that will swing a game in our favor, something more psychological.

"We have a team that can line up with our everyday guys and beat you, but this might be something like scoring off a bunt from second or something like that."

The way the Raiders are playing, it's unlikely Brooks will need such chicanery.

They've reeled off nine straight wins -- counting forfeits, 12 straight -- dating to the 4th of July weekend Enid, Okla., Tournament. Nearly every Raider is hitting over .300, their pitching staff has four solid starters and Blake Dickson, with his 90-mph fastball and minuscule .199 opponent batting average, has become a bona fide stud.

As Brooks describes them, Lawrence is "just a real mature, real focused team. We're cutting down on silly little mistakes. Ever since Enid, we've done a better job of that."

The Raiders are the top seed, earning a bye until 8 p.m. today when they play the Blue Valley Huskies.

"We have a pretty tough zone, but it's nothing we can't handle," pitcher/infielder Aaron Madill said.

Madill should know. He's 6-0, with a 0.60 ERA. Opponents are hitting .193 off him, and according to Madill his arm feels great after mid-season fatigue.

"The last game I pitched I felt good," Madill said. "I had my stuff back and my velocity."

Madill will pitch today. If the Raiders win, Dominick Harrell is slated to go Thursday. Brooks isn't sure who will pitch Friday, with Taylor Martin and Matt Lane each nursing nagging injuries. But Brooks said both could go if needed.

"Obviously, we need Matt to win a state championship, but we may not need him to win a zone," Brooks said.

Lawrence also will be without second baseman Andrew Pyle, who is spending the week preparing for the Shrine Bowl. Tyler Blankenship will replace him at second.

The Raiders offense is led by shortstop Matt Berner (.436) and center fielder Derek Bailey (.432). Bailey, who hits in the two spot, leads in RBIs (49), while he, Pyle, Berner and Tommy Mangino are tops in runs scored.

Still, to earn a trip to the state tournament next week in Hays, Brooks said the Raiders had to put that talent to use -- or their season was done.

"This is a winnable zone for us, for sure, but if we don't play well, we'll lose it," Brooks said. "We're the favorite, but the favorite has lost it before."

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