Archive for Monday, May 19, 2008

Let the rivalry hype begin

May 19, 2008


Between baseball and basketball, Lawrence High junior Dorian Green has played in plenty of rivalry games against Free State High.

Throw in football, and Free State senior Caleb Gress has seen his share of showdowns against Lawrence High, too.

But in the 10 or so city showdowns that Green and Gress have combined to play in, none of them brings to mind the kind of energy and excitement connected to Friday's highly anticipated first-round meeting in the Class 6A state baseball tournament.

"(LHS) Coach (Brad) Stoll touched on that the other day," Green said. "He said that this will be the biggest game against Free State that any of us have ever played."

Stoll said his comment was not intended to add fuel to the fire. It merely was a statement of fact based on the situation. But the LHS coach said that if his words inspired his players to focus a little more than normal, that would be fine with him.

Focus shouldn't be a problem for either team this week, at least not if the coaches have their way. Both Stoll and Free State coach Mike Hill said they're approaching this week's showdown as a sort of means to an end. Despite the gap in their seeding - the Lions (11-10) enter as the No. 8 seed and the Firebirds (19-2) are seeded No. 1 - both teams are headed to Topeka hoping and expecting to win a state title.

"I guess you could say that because it's a state game, it's the biggest city showdown we've played in," Gress said. "But, to us, it's a big game because it's the first round of state and not because of who the opponent is. We're satisfied with what we've done so far, but we still have three games to win, and we won't be truly satisfied until we achieve the three goals we set for ourselves this winter."

Those goals included winning the Sunflower League - check - winning a regional title - check - and winning state - to be determined.

For the most part, Free State is a speciality team. The majority of the Firebirds' lineup focuses solely on baseball, with only Gress and two or three other starters playing multiple sports.

Right fielder Alex Hardman was an all-state bowler this winter, left fielder Nick Hassig played junior varsity basketball, and first baseman Tyler Hatesohl started for the FSHS soccer squad in the fall.

In the other dugout, seven of Lawrence's top 10 players, some of whom already have competed at a state tournament this season, played at least two sports during the school year.

Although that might not matter when the teams step onto the field at 11 a.m. Friday, Green said he thought it might be a factor this week during preparations.

Clint Pinnick, Chase Muder, Travis Sanders, Aaron Rea and Jake Green played prominent roles for the LHS football team. Dorian Green and Lance Kilburn started for the Lions' basketball team that finished second at state.

While those seasons and the excitement that came with past city showdowns have come and gone, it's baseball's turn to experience the city rivalry at a new level. According to Green, the hype began even before the match-up was set.

"It started before Free State even won their regional," said Green, whose Lions qualified for state last Wednesday, one day before the Firebirds. "We knew, with our record, that if they won their regional, we'd probably be playing them, and I think that got us all pumped up, especially because we already lost to them twice in games we were in a position to win. The build-up is something that gets everyone a little more excited and makes everyone a little more focused."

And it's only just begun.


cato_the_elder 9 years, 9 months ago

One of the most disappointing developments on the national level in recent years is the tendency of high school kids to play just one sport, a result in large part of parental obsession with mythical pro sports careers. The worst aspect of this, however, is that it clearly favors those families who can afford to take part in the "year-round" programs that are available - especially in basketball, baseball/softball, volleyball and soccer. We've come to see this in Lawrence in many ways - for just one example, why does so much of the youth volleyball talent come from SWJHS, by far the wealthiest junior high in the city? While, sadly, there is apparently little that can be done to stem this tide, any high school kid who is talented athletically and chooses to play only one sport, especially if parental obsessions are in any way responsible for that decision, is missing out on the big picture.

Take_a_letter_Maria 9 years, 9 months ago

While there is a pattern of kids plaing only one sport in HS it often isn't the kids or parents that make the decision, but the coaches.

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