Jordan Dreiling hesitated hardly a second before smiling in recollection.
"The dogpile after we won. That's what I remember most," Dreiling said. "It was a very special moment."
Dreiling is one of two members of Free State High's state-bound baseball team who was also a regular when the Firebirds captured the 2006 Class 6A title.
The other Firebird who started as a sophomore for those Boys of Spring was Hunter Scheib.
"I just remember how much fun it was," Scheib said in reflecting on that joyous Saturday afternoon at Wichita's Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
When Free State traveled to the Air Capital as a No. 4 seed two springs ago, Dreiling was the starting third baseman while Scheib mostly patrolled center field.
Now they form a lightning-quick keystone combination with Scheib at short and Dreiling at second base.
"Both are very good athletes," Free State coach Mike Hill said. "If they aren't the best middle combination in the state, they're among them."
Sub at shortstop
Actually, Scheib did play some shortstop in '06. He moved in from the outfield when regular shortstop Robby Price was on the mound. In the Firebirds' 2006 state tourney opener against Dodge City, Price was the starting pitcher so Scheib opened at short that day.
"Yeah, I was nervous," Scheib said. "It was just the jitters of being there and getting to play."
The jitters showed early when Scheib made a couple of errors that led to Dodge City runs. However, he slugged a two-run double later that helped Free State post a 5-3 victory.
"You can't let errors affect the rest of your game," Scheib said.
After knocking off Dodge City, Free State faced No. 1 seed Goddard in a semifinal that wasn't close. Junior Ben Wilson slammed a two-run homer in support of senior southpaw Travis Blankenship and the Firebirds won, 7-0.
Later in the day, Scott Heitshusen bashed a mammoth two-run homer into the Lawrence-Dumont Stadium scoreboard and hurled all seven innings as the Firebirds edged Maize, 6-5, for the 6A title.
Now the Firebirds are headed for the state tournament again even though the contemporary club bears scant resemblance to the '06 edition.
"This team is talented, too, but in a different way," Hill said. "That '06 team had dominant pitching, and a lot of power."
Fewer homers, whiffs
By way of contrast, no current Firebird has hit more than two home runs and the pitchers rely heavily on a defense that makes plays and makes them consistently.
"What benefits this team is speed," Hill said. "This team runs better than any team we've had."
At the plate, the Firebirds try to neutralize their lack of power with a mind-set about making contact and with aggressive base-running.
"The strikeouts are significantly lower than two years ago," Hill said. "And in high school ball if you put it in play you've got a chance."
Of the seniors on that '06 state championship team, the only one who went on to a four-year college was Price, who moved into Kansas University's starting lineup as an infielder.
Most of the rest decided to go to junior college.
Heitshusen went to Hutchinson Community College for a year, then transferred to Michigan State, where he logged only 13 innings of mound work for the Spartans this spring.
Heitshusen has told friends he plans to transfer to KU and, if he does, he'll find some familiar faces.
Blankenship, for one, committed to KU after his freshman year at Johnson County CC, and has had a dynamic sophomore season for the Cavaliers.
JCCC will be making its first appearance in the NJCAA Tournament this weekend in Grand Junction, Colo., thanks in large part to Blankenship's 11-3 record and 2.59 earned run average.
Outfielder Brett Lisher is another Free Stater headed to KU. Lisher, who spent the last two years at Allen County CC in Iola, was one of the '06 team's bashers. Like Heitshusen, Lisher homered in the championship game against Maize.
Travis Ice, the regular second baseman in '06, was a Lisher teammate in Iola for the last two years and will apparently move on to Washburn University.
First baseman Lorenzo Ricketts also opted for a two-year school as did No. 4 pitcher Jason Sneegas. Ricketts and Sneegas went to Butler County CC in El Dorado and Highland CC, respectively.
Three juniors who played significant roles for the '06 champs - catcher Andy Petz, DH Ben Wilson and utilityman Kyle Cross - also opted for the juco route. Petz went to Cowley County CC in Arkansas City while Wilson headed to Garden City CC and Cross to Highland CC.
Then there are, of course, Dreiling and Scheib, the only sophomore regulars in '06. Dreiling says he'll be going to KU as a walk-on this fall while Scheib has signed a scholarship agreement with Missouri Science and Technology in Rolla, Mo.