The Lawrence Raiders baseball team might be the envy of all area high schoolers right about now.
While Lawrence and Free State high schools have started the new school year, members of the Raiders aren't quite done with their summer.
They will start play today at the American Legion World Series, going up against Northeast Region champion Milton, Mass., in the final game of the first day of play.
Game time is approximately 7:30 tonight in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
"You would think being at the World Series and winning a regional championship there would be a certain amount of excitement, but we're not satisfied with just being here," said Raiders coach Troy Wingert, who in his first year as coach is taking the Raiders to their first World Series. "We're all here together, and we're walking with big shoulders, big chests, with a big task on hand. We believe we're one of the best here, and we're trying to prove that - because we're not here just to participate, but to win it.
"We've got some guys missing college classes, and there are five kids missing the start of high school. We have one guy that is missing football practices, and all the coaches are missing work. So there were decisions to make, and we are here to win it - with a very business-like attitude."
Milton relied on offense to win its region with a team batting average of .371 with 55 runs scored. The team wasn't too impressive on the mound, though, as it had a team earned-run-average of 6.32 and gave up 41 total runs - the most of all the teams in the region.
"Stats are stats, and we're not worried about the numbers," Wingert said. "It doesn't matter who we hook it up with between lines, and that's always been the mentality of my kids. I think they are welcoming that Massachusetts has only two losses, but when you hook it up, it's all about playing against the baseball, and you just throw all the numbers out the window. But, it looks like it's a good matchup for our offense, and we're just going to have to worry about putting the ball in play - which we are good at."
Lawrence earned a trip to Cedar Rapids by going the maximum amount of games in the Central Plains Region having to play the South Dakota squad in the "if necessary" game after picking up its first loss of the tournament in the first championship game.
The Raiders' ERA in regional play was a solid 2.76 -
second-best in the region and the best mark by the teams that played more than two games.
"In the past couple of weeks, the pitching staff has done better pitching ahead in the count," Wingert said. "When they're throwing strikes, it keeps the defense on their toes. They've been putting the ball in play, which in turn sets a great tone, and they've definitely done better with that, as of late."
The pitching staff was held together by regional MVP Scott Heitshusen, who finished with two wins and a save - giving up just three runs in his 19 innings. He also hit two home runs and drove in seven runs.
But it was Andy Petz's plate appearances that powered an offense that posted 54 runs - 13 more than any other team in the Central Plains - with a team-high 10 hits and nine RBIs. The Raiders' catcher was second on the team with a .400 batting average; Brett Lisher's .409 led the team.
"The most important thing with Petz is that he has done a great job of keeping our pitching staff in and around the strike zone," Wingert said. "So it's nice to see that over the last week to week and a half, things have been good for him offensively. He caught fire with the bat, and he really started us off in the first game of regionals, and it kind of carried on through regional."
After Heitshusen's long weekend, Wingert decided to go with Max Ellenbecker - who gave up just an unearned run in seven innings at regionals - to start the World Series, saying that "a little extra rest definitely will not hurt Scott."
Depending on the outcomes of the games, the Raiders will face either Midlothian, Va., or Las Vegas on Saturday in the double-elimination Series.
The winner of the tournament will be decided Tuesday, with the championship game set for 1 p.m. and the "if necessary" game scheduled for 7 p.m.