True, Lawrence High's baseball team failed to qualify for this weekend's Class 6A state baseball tournament at Hoglund Ballpark, but that doesn't mean Free State High won't have the possibility of facing a traditional rival.
Just ask the Firebirds about Maize High.
"That's just the team you want to go out and kill," Firebirds' junior Scott Heitshusen remarked, smiling. "It's like the second LHS."
As the third-seeded Firebirds enter their third straight 6A state tourney, few schools have as much baseball history with Free State as No. 2-seed Maize.
The suburban Wichita school, coached by former Kansas University outfielder Rocky Helm, bounced Free State in the first round in 2003. A year later, the Firebirds avenged that loss, run-ruling the Eagles, 12-2, in the semifinals.
Like Free State this spring, Maize will bring a veteran squad to KU's stadium, and maybe the state's strongest lineup, revolving around Stanford-bound catcher Brent Milleville, who was named the state's Gatorade Player of the Year.
"That lineup is too good," Wichita East coach Matt Brown said after Maize clipped the Blue Aces, 6-2, in last week's sub-state finals. "They're the best we've faced all year. There aren't any weak spots. You can't pitch around anyone to get to someone else."
If Free State and Maize meet for the third year in a row, it will have to be in a 10 a.m. Saturday semifinal.
First, the Firebirds (18-3) would have to knock off No. 6-seed Shawnee Mission Northwest (13-8) in a first-round game at 1:30 p.m. Friday. And Maize (19-3) would have to dispose of No. 7 seed Olathe South (12-10) in Friday's 11 a.m. tourney opener.
What: Class 6A state baseball and softball tournaments
Where: Kansas University's Hoglund Ballpark and Clinton Lake Sports Complex
Who: No. 3 seed Free State baseball (18-3) vs. No. 6 Shawnee Mission Northwest (13-8), 1:30 p.m.; No. 6 seed Free State softball (13-9) vs. No. 3 Wichita Northwest (19-3), 7 p.m.
Tickets: Friday admission at each venue is $5 for adults, $4 for students; Saturday's prices are $6 and $5
Advisory: Naismith Drive is closed in front of Allen Fieldhouse, but Hoglund Ballpark can be accessed by taking 19th Street to Naismith and turning by Oliver Hall.
Free State and SM Northwest already have played, meeting April 28. Strong pitching by staff ace Jake Hoover enabled the Firebirds to squeeze the Cougars, 2-1. Hoover escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the bottom of the seven by fanning two Northwest batters.
Hoover would seem the logical choice to hurl again Friday, but Free State coach Mike Hill declined to reveal his starter. Hill's other options are left-handers Travis Blankenship and Max Ellenbecker.
Friday's other first-round games will pit No. 1 seed Manhattan (20-2) against No. 8 Wichita Northwest (11-11) at 4 p.m., and No. 4 SM East (15-6) against No. 5 Hutchinson (14-8) at 6:30 p.m.
The semifinals are set for 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Saturday. The third-place game is scheduled for 3 p.m. and the championship for 5:30 p.m.