It could be "fun" only for so long for Lawrence High baseball coach Brad Stoll.
Stoll, a former Free State High assistant, was looking forward to his return to the old stomping grounds Thursday evening, but after the Firebirds' six-run fourth inning, his Lions couldn't recover, and fell, 8-3.
"Yeah (it was fun), until Brett Lisher hit that ball off the Neu Physical Therapy sign out there," Stoll quipped.
Before Lisher's offensive fireworks, the first three innings provided coaching strategies at their finest and plenty of small-ball.
Free State struck in its first at-bat, when shortstop Robbie Price led off by reaching on a two-base error when his ground ball slipped past LHS first baseman Nick DeBiasse. Price scored three batters later when Jake Hoover smoked an RBI single up the middle off LHS left-hander Will Falk.
In the top of the second, Lawrence swung back. Matt Falk and Tyler Knight earned back-to-back walks, and scored when lead-off man Brian Heere came through. Heere, facing a full-count, two-out situation, ripped a line-drive single up the middle to give the Lions a 2-1 edge.
Price scored again the next inning after earning a leadoff walk to pull the Firebirds even at 2-2.
Lawrence High answered with some crafty base-running. With Hart on third base, Tyler Knight -- who reached on a sing -- was caught in a run-down, and ducked under Free State's Lorenzo Ricketts to head back to first, where no one was covering. During the confusion, Hart scored to give LHS a 3-2 lead, which only would be safe for about 15 minutes.
At that point, the LHS hitters were frustrating FSHS starter Travis Blankenship by working him into a high pitch count early.
"Our whole goal was to put pressure on them by running and being on the base paths," Stoll said.
The FSHS bats awoke in the fourth. Andy Petz and Nick Ayre started it with consecutive base hits, followed by a walk by Price and then a walk to Anthony Dreiling, which scored Petz and tied the game.
This drew a conference on the mound, ultimately ending in Falk staying in the game ... though he probably wished he hadn't.
At bat was junior outfielder Brett Lisher, a first-team all-Sunflower League player in 2004 as a sophomore, but who entered the game hitting a meager .077.
Lisher's barrel finally exploded, jacking a triple over the head of Lawrence right fielder Michael Sickinger on a 3-0 count, emptying the bases and ultimately ending the Firebirds' two-game losing skid.
"I finally found the barrel, and luckily I had the bases loaded when it happened," Lisher said. "The more you think, the worse you do. If you just go up there and swing it like you know you can, then you're bound to get a hit sooner or later."
Added Stoll: "Our other goal was to not get some of those fast-ball hitters in fast-ball counts. Unfortunately, Brett got up with a 3-0 count and it was bases juiced, we had to throw a fastball, and he can hit a fastball a country mile. And he did."
Just for good measure, Free State reliever Jake Hoover was lights-out in the final four innings, earning his third win of the season. Hoover struck out seven to close out the game.
While the homecoming was something Stoll initially looked forward to, in the other dugout, it was especially tough for Free State coach Mike Hill.
"Put me in the Roy Williams category -- I didn't particularly like playing against a friend," Hill said. "It's a little different with someone you're so close to, because if you succeed, then he doesn't, and vice versa. Some days that will happen.
"But I'm very impressed with what he's doing with that club, and the way they played and the way they competed."
|Brian Heere cf||4||0||2||2|
|Michael Sickinger rf||4||0||0||0|
|Marc Albers ss/p||3||0||1||0|
|Nick DeBiasse 1b||3||0||0||0|
|Will Falk p||2||0||0||0|
|Daniel Parker ss||1||0||0||0|
|Bret Sims c||2||0||1||0|
|Travis Hart pr||0||1||0||0|
|Matt Falk 2b||2||1||0||0|
|Tyler Knight lf||2||1||1||0|
|John Novotny 3b||3||0||0||0|
|Robbie Price ss||2||3||1||0|
|Anthony Dreiling 2b||1||1||0||1|
|Brett Lisher lf||4||1||1||3|
|Jake Hoover lf/p||3||1||2||1|
|Scott Heitshusen rf||3||0||0||0|
|Lorenzo Ricketts 1b||4||0||2||0|
|Cory Cooper 3b||3||0||0||0|
|Andy Petz c||4||0||1||0|
|Kyle Cross pr||0||1||0||0|
|Travis Blankenship p||1||0||0||0|
|Nick Ayre lf||4||1||1||1|
|WP -- Hoover. LP -- Falk.|