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Archive for Thursday, April 21, 2005

Massive River City Baseball Festival on tap

April 21, 2005

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Rain and the Kansas Relays have been synonymous several times during the annual track and field event at Memorial Stadium, but Mike Hill has another reason to worry about the weather this weekend in Lawrence.

Hill, Free State High's baseball coach, is playing host to the fourth-annual River City Baseball Festival.

"Rain is always going to be a risk that goes hand in hand with a baseball tournament like this," Hill said. "But hopefully this year Mother Nature will cooperate a little better."

She certainly didn't last season, when the last two days of the three-day high school baseball extravaganza were washed out.

"It poured buckets. There was just no way that we could get anything in at any of the fields," said Hill, whose 7-2 squad will open at 7 tonight against Omaha (Neb.) Creighton Prep -- Nebraska's defending Class A champion -- at Kansas University's Hoglund Ballpark.

Last year's dreary conditions, however, didn't dampen the spirits of the strong Midwest baseball teams that make the annual trek for what is becoming a behemoth of a prep baseball event for the Sunflower State.

Again this year, 26 teams from Kansas and the bordering states of Missouri and Nebraska will play 31 games over the next three days at Hoglund, Ice Field and Free State High.

The top teams in Kansas and Missouri's largest two classes will be represented in Olathe East (No. 1 in 6A in Kansas), tradition-rich Kansas City, Mo., Rockhurst (the top team in Missouri's 5A classification), nationally ranked Blue Valley West (Kansas' top team in 5A) and Ozark, Mo., (No. 1 in Missouri in 4A).

That kind of talent has brought out college coaches and professional scouts by the scores.

"It's not only a great way for both Lawrence High and Free State kids to get some big-time exposure, but for all of the top-notch kids from Kansas and the surrounding areas," said LHS coach Brad Stoll, whose 5-6 Lions will take on Rockhurst today at 4 p.m. at Ice Field.

"The past few years, there have been a couple of really high-profile players here and more than 20 professional baseball organizations represented. It's just unbelievable how big this thing has become."

Even for Hill, who, along with his former assistant, Stoll, and several other individuals in the community, decided to buck the state's "backward" system of high school baseball several years back.

"We wanted to do something to better baseball in Kansas," said Hill, who like all other coaches in the state is limited to a 20-game schedule and can play only teams from bordering states.

Several out-of-state teams this weekend play schedules with 10 to 20 more games than the Kansas State High School Activities Assn. allows.

"We wanted something better than playing 10 doubleheaders a year. How boring is that," Hill said. "Kansas is just so prohibitive in its stance with baseball.

"I think this tourney really brightens up the schedule for a lot of teams in this state, and it offers the opportunity for the kids to showcase their talents to a wide variety of coaches and scouts."

After its opener, Free State will take on Chaminade Prep out of St. Louis at 5:30 p.m. Friday at Hoglund. Saturday, the Firebirds will square off against Springfield, Mo., Hillcrest at 11:30 a.m., again at Hoglund.

LHS will play Ozark, Mo., Friday at 12:30 p.m. at Hoglund and then Blue Springs, Mo., at 2 p.m. Saturday at Ice Field.

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