Who knew five percent could mean so much?
With 95 percent of the regular season behind them, the Free State and Lawrence High baseball teams will meet at 7 tonight at Kansas University’s Hoglund Ballpark in one final regular-season showdown.
Through 19 games, the teams are separated by just one game. Free State enters tonight’s contest at 16-3 overall and 10-1 in Sunflower League play. The Lions, meanwhile, enter at 15-4 overall, 10-1 in league play. The one loss came in April, a 5-2 setback at the hands of the Firebirds.
Officially, the league recognizes the two as the 2009 co-champions. Nothing that happens tonight will change that, since the second of two regular-season meetings between the rival schools was scheduled as a nonleague contest.
The league game was that Free State victory back in April. The Lions have not forgotten.
“(Our guys) are mad they got beat in April, they want a chance to host a regional, and you never want to lose to your crosstown rival,” LHS coach Brad Stoll said. “Even if you’re playing darts, you want to beat those guys. So, this one might not mean anything in terms of league standings, but it means plenty to us.”
If there’s one area that the two teams agree on, when it comes to assessing the importance of the final regular-season contest, it’s tied to regional implications. With a victory, the Firebirds would guarantee themselves the opportunity to host next week’s regional tournament, something they’ve done every year since 2003.
A win for the Lions would put the two teams tied at 16-4 overall, requiring a Saturday-morning coin flip to break the tie. The winner of the flip would earn the No. 2 seed and host. The loser would be the No. 3 seed and likely would immediately start plotting a way to exact revenge.
The one wrinkle is Manhattan High, which entered today at 15-3 and still had a doubleheader with Topeka West on its schedule. Should MHS sweep the Chargers, the Indians would lock up the No. 1 seed and therefore would host its regional. A split or two losses would throw the whole system out of whack and would keep LHS and FSHS alive for the top two seeds.
“What’s important is that you be in the best position you can be in to win next week,” FSHS coach Mike Hill said. “If you go all out to win (tonight), what do you do at regionals on Monday?”
LHS enters tonight on the heels of a 6-5 victory against Shawnee Mission East on Wednesday.
According to Stoll, Dorian Green or Albert Minnis will start tonight.
Hill said it was highly likely that Hayden Emerson would start on the mound for the Firebirds and emphasized that he expected to use three or four pitchers in light of the team’s recent stretch of games.
“This game has come down to the last inning the last four years or so,” Stoll said. “You know they’ll play their butts off and we’re going to do the same. You tell your kids it’s just another game, but you’d be lying if you believed it.”