The Free State High baseball team's pitching staff looked like an area of concern for the Firebirds before the season.
Free State only returned two innings of pitching from its Class 6A state championship team a year ago.
After five games in 2007, the Firebirds have given up only 10 runs. They've scored 62.
So much for breaking in their pitching.
"I'm pleased with how we've pitched so far," Free State coach Mike Hill said. "We're ahead of where we thought we'd be."
Free State (5-0) will take on Lawrence High (5-2) at 5:30 today at the Firebirds home field. After Monday's practice, Hill said Free State's starting pitcher wasn't determined. Lawrence High will start senior ace Daniel Green.
Free State only has one senior pitcher: Kyle Cross. The rest - Caleb Gress, Cody Lown, E.J. Swanson, Alex Hardman and Brad Witmer - are juniors.
The early success of the Firebirds' revamped pitching staff has had one constant - senior catcher Andy Petz.
"We've been keeping from walking a lot of people," Petz said. "We might not have as many strikeouts as we did last year, but they're getting ground balls, and our defense has been playing great behind them. As long as you don't walk people or commit errors, you have a chance to win almost every ball game."
Petz has started three years for Free State behind the plate. He typically hits third in the lineup.
Interestingly enough, Petz and Green played summer ball together with the Lawrence Raiders, who were one of four Kansas teams in 80 years to reach the American Legion World Series last summer.
"Hopefully getting to catch him for a summer has been to my advantage, but he's also seen me hit for a summer, so that's to his advantage," Petz said about the left-handed Green. "He's just a great pitcher."
Green has been Lawrence coach Brad Stoll's ace for two years. He has never beaten Free State in his three years on varsity.
"Hopefully that's going to change tomorrow," Green said. "I don't want to lose to Free State my senior year. We haven't beat them when I've been up here. That has to change."
Green most likely will not pitch more than five innings today. Stoll, in his third season, said he'd like to utilize Lawrence's pitching depth. According to Stoll, it's the most depth LHS has had in his time as coach.
Joe Miller and closer Jordan Guntert might pitch for LHS today. The longest any LHS hurler has pitched this year was sophomore Dorian Green's five innings against Stillwater, Okla.
The LHS offense has given Lions fans even more hope for victory today. Lawrence is averaging more than 10 runs per game.
"They're lighting the scoreboard up," Green said. "As pitchers, we love that because it's a lot easier throwing with the lead instead of coming from behind. We're swinging the sticks well, and hopefully that will carry into (today)."
Stoll said he has encouraged his players to be more aggressive earlier in counts.
"The kids have bought into the aggressive philosophy," Stoll said. "We want to hit the first thing we like and hit it as hard as we can."
Even though it's early, it's evident Stoll had today circled on the calendar
"I'm fired up," Stoll said. "I've been thinking about it all weekend. It was kind of hard to go through Easter without thinking about the matchups. To be the best, you have to play the best."