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Archive for Friday, May 23, 2008

City squads sick of rest, ready for showdown

May 23, 2008

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City baseball showdown tomorrow

They played two times this year, and on both occasions the Firebirds were victorious. Tomorrow morning, the Lawrence High and Free State High baseball teams meet again. This time, however, much more is at stake. Enlarge video

Directions to Hummer

¢ West on I-70 to the Gage Blvd. exit

¢ South on Gage to SW 6th Ave.

¢ East on SW 6th to Sports Park Dr.

¢ North on Sports Park Dr. to facility

Tongue-in-check, Brad Stoll vowed he couldn't remember the last time Lawrence High had played a baseball game.

"I think it was November 23rd," Stoll quipped with a grin.

Actually, it's been nine days since Stoll's Lions clipped Washburn Rural, 9-1, in a Class 6A regional final in Topeka.

But that's long enough.

"All of us are antsy to play," said Clint Pinnick, the Lions' third baseman and cleanup hitter.

Lawrence High won't have to wait much longer. The Lions will meet crosstown rival Free State High in the Class 6A state tournament at 11 a.m. today at Topeka's Hummer Park.

Free State basically is in the same boat. The Firebirds haven't played in eight days, or since they trimmed Olathe Northwest, 9-4, in their state qualifier.

"Baseball is a game that's supposed to be played every day," Free State coach Mike Hill said. "Look at the Big 12. Their tournament started three days after the season ended. We shouldn't have to wait more than a week."

Then there's The Brunch Factor. Not many baseball games are played on a weekday morning.

"If the KSHSAA put this game at 6 p.m.," Stoll said, "they could have paid off a lot of debts. There would have been 2,000 people there. As it is, there should be a good turnout of high school kids, but most people will have to work."

For the players, the 11 a.m. start meant a change in sleeping habits, mainly for the seniors who weren't in school all week.

"It's been a challenge for us seniors," Free State centerfielder Adam Rock said, "but we've been getting to bed early because we knew we had to get up early for the game."

So early, in fact, that the Firebirds were scheduled to take batting practice at 8 a.m. today on their own field before boarding vans for Topeka.

"If we're sleepy," Rock said with a smile, "the ping of the bat will definitely wake us up."

Both Stoll and Hill will send a senior left-hander to the mound today. Caleb "Bubba" Gress (6-0, 2.32 ERA) will go for the Firebirds against Tom Schuh (5-4, 2.72 ERA).

Gress earned the call over Kelson Boyer (5-0, 2.39) and Cody Lown (2-1, 3.08) based his performance in last week's regional. Gress faced 20 batters and retired them all.

"We feel we had three viable options," Hill said, "and Caleb was great the last time out."

Lawrence (11-10) is the No. 8 seed while the Firebirds (19-2) are the top seed. On paper, Free State owns a glaring advantage in team batting average - .355 to .251 - and has a deeper pitching staff.

But the Lions were also an underdog in their regional and, as senior Travis Sanders said: "Our team thrives on that. I really like how we stand."

Another potential positive for the Lions is the fact they lost twice to the Firebirds during the regular season.

"It's an old baseball adage that beating a team three times is difficult to do," Free State coach Hill said. "From that standpoint, we have a tough task ahead of us."

Today's winner will meet the winner of the 1:30 p.m. game between No. 4 seed Wichita North and No. 5 Blue Valley in a semifinal at 10 a.m. on Saturday. The loser's season will be over.

Saturday's third-place game will be at 3 p.m. and the championship game at 5:30 p.m.

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