When it comes to the age-old baseball debate — wood or aluminum — Lawrence High senior Aaron Rea could care less.
A day after ripping a home run to left field with a wood bat in a victory against Shawnee Mission East, Rea left the yard again on Thursday, this time with an aluminum bat at Kansas University’s Hoglund Ballpark.
Rea’s solo homer — his fourth of the year — came in the bottom of the sixth and gave the Lions a 4-3 victory against crosstown rival Free State. It also helped atone for an atrocious top of the sixth in which the Firebirds tied the game at 3 by scoring one run on no hits and three LHS errors.
“That inning was the worst defensive inning of our season, hands down,” Rea said. “Three senior leaders made errors on plays we normally make. I didn’t try to take that to the plate with me, but I knew I had to do something to get it started.”
Rea didn’t stop. His homer, a blast to left field that landed nearly 375 feet from home plate, effectively ended the game. The next three Lions went down quickly in the sixth, and Dorian Green, who relieved starter Albert Minnis after four innings to pick up the victory, sat the Firebirds down 1-2-3 in the top of the seventh.
“It was an absolute emotional roller coaster,” LHS coach Brad Stoll said. “You feel kind of funky after a win like that where you kick it around a little. But the bottom line is we won. Aaron Rea stepped up and did what he was supposed to do.”
The Lions jumped to a 1-0 lead behind an RBI groundout from Minnis in the bottom of the first inning. After striking out two of the first three Firebirds batters he faced, Minnis was jacked up as he walked off the mound after striking out Cody Kukuk to end the first.
In the top of the second, Free State touched Minnis for two of its three hits on the night, a double by catcher Adam Petz and a two-RBI triple from Austin Holladay. Holladay’s triple gave FSHS a 2-1 lead. The only other FSHS hit the rest of the night came from designated hitter Michael Lisher, who singled in the fourth.
Still, the Firebirds found ways to threaten. After leaving two runners stranded in the top of the fourth, Free State went down in order in the fifth and took advantage of the Lions’ defensive struggles in the sixth. Despite three LHS errors, Free State scored just once, thanks in large part to Green, who struck out two and coerced Nick Hassig to fly out to deep center field to end the inning.
“Sometimes we do that with Dorian Green,” Stoll said. “We put him in these jams and he continues to get out of them.”
That set the stage for Rea’s heroics in the sixth, which appeared to fuel Green for the top of the seventh. The Lions’ other runs on the night came when Green scored on a bases-loaded walk to second baseman Devin Forio in the fourth and two batters later when Rea crossed home plate after an error by Scott on a ground ball from Minnis.
With the LHS victory, the Lions and Firebirds finished the season with 16-4 records and tied for the Sunflower League championship with 10-1 league marks.
But, after the game, the LHS players said they’ve already forgotten what has happened to this point.
“Those first 20 games were practice games,” senior third baseman Clint Pinnick, who finished the night 2-for-4 at the plate. “Now we’re in for the real deal, and this win gives us confidence heading into regionals. We don’t care about league championships and all that other stuff. We want to win regionals, we want to go to state, and we want to win state.”
Like the Lions, the Firebirds left Hoglund Ballpark focused only on what lies ahead.
“It seems like every time we play them things have a way of evening out,” sophomore Cody Kukuk said. “We battled hard at the end and came up short. We just have to shake this one off and get the next one.”