Wichita The mission for the Free State High baseball squad was to win a Class 6A state championship.
Mission status: Accomplished.
"Amen!" FSHS coach Mike Hill said. "Yes, it is!"
It had been four years in the making, but Saturday at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, a 6-5 victory over Maize brought the first-ever state baseball championship to the school - and the second state championship in all sports.
"We've been so close. We've been so close the last four years," Travis Blankenship said. "We knew how tough it is to not win, but it's so much better to be on top."
The Firebirds turned to Scott Heitshusen's arm - and bat - to topple second-seeded Maize. After picking up the victory in relief in the first round of the tournament, Heitshusen came back and went all seven innings for a second W.
"This weekend, when he was on the mound - with the way he dealt - he was huge for us," Free State's Brett Lisher said.
Heitshusen also got his first and only hit of the tournament in the third inning - a two-run home run that was only stopped by the top of the scoreboard 390 feet from home, which had many spectators guessing how far it would have gone had it not ricocheted off the advertisement.
That home run, which also brought around Lisher, tied the game at 3 after the Lions had taken a two-run lead in the bottom of the second.
"When we get down, there's nothing to worry about with our team," Heitshusen said. "When we're up at the plate, we can make anything happen at any time, so there was nothing to worry about."
Three innings later, Lisher got to touch all the bases one last time with his game-winning solo shot.
Of course, the Firebirds had to go head-to-head with the No. 1 seed, Goddard, Saturday morning in the semifinals in order to play in the championship game. And thanks to Blankenship, the senior class got one more shot in a title game.
The lefty pitched seven shutout innings, giving up six hits and striking out four. No Maize base-runner reached third in Free State's 7-0 victory.
"I just kept pitching strikes," Blankenship said following his performance. "The guys behind me made great plays, too. Everybody was stepping it, and it was just a whole team effort - it was awesome."
Just as in the Maize game, a home run sparked things for the offense. Ben Wilson brought Andy Petz around to score with him on a two-run blast in the second. Wilson went 4-for-4 with three RBIs.
"He got people believing a little bit," Hill said following the Goddard game. "But really it was everybody that contributed at the plate today. But he did have an extra-special day."
While the offense was prevalent throughout the weekend, diving plays for outs and the five double plays turned by seniors Robby Price, Travis Ice and Lorenzo Ricketts turned things around for the squad.
It was a double-play started by Ice grabbing a would-be bloop single that sealed the deal.
"We had some unbelievable defensive plays in the first game," Hill said. "And then, obviously, the hitting was special, and our pitching was fantastic."
All year it had been the leadership of the core group of seniors that led them to their state-birth, and the championship isn't the only mark the seniors left on the program.
"What I think is important is how they played the game and how the conducted themselves on and off the field," the Firebird skipper said. "They're all wonderful students and just special people. The imprint they left on this program is not going to be measured just by a big old trophy - although that's not bad."