As tempting as it might be to look ahead, Free State and Lawrence High baseball coaches Mike Hill and Brad Stoll insist that their focus leading up to today’s Class 6A regional tournament at FSHS has been on their first-round matchups and not a potential rematch with each other in the regional title game.
“You should win your first-round game when you’re a top seed like both of us are,” Stoll said. “We’ve got a good scouting report on our first-round opponent, and we feel like we’re capable of getting ourselves to the championship game. I’m sure they do, too.”
Round 1 winners will face each other at 7:30 tonight for the right to advance to the state tournament May 29-30.
Free State enters today’s regional as the host school and No. 2 overall seed. The Firebirds (16-4) are hosting a regional for the seventh straight season and are just a week removed from wrapping up a share of their sixth Sunflower League title in the past seven seasons and seventh overall.
To say it has been a successful season for the guys in green would be putting it lightly, particularly considering that the Firebirds did all of that with just one senior on the roster.
But even with such impressive credentials, the Firebirds enter today’s 2 p.m. contest with No. 7 Junction City (5-13) on the heels of a 4-3 loss to Lawrence High. The loss was the second in four games for FSHS, which strung together two separate 7-1 stretches throughout the season.
Coincidentally, the team the Firebirds tied for the league title was third-seeded Lawrence High (16-4), winner of 11 straight games entering today’s 4:30 p.m. first-round meeting with No. 6 Topeka High (6-14). LHS has finished third at state in each of the past two seasons.
The Lions, who field nine seniors on their roster, will send senior right-hander Andy Urban to the mound to start against Topeka.
“He’s a No. 1 on most people’s staffs,” Stoll said. “We’re just lucky to be in a position where we have three guys who are all No. 1s in our book.”
Free State, meanwhile, has left its Game 1 starting pitcher up to a gameday decision. Hill said he and his staff likely would decide early today between sophomore Colin Toalson and junior Rob Wagner when considering who would take the mound against Junction City. Regardless of which pitcher starts, Hill said he expected his team to remain focused on winning the opener above anything else.
“There’s something that’s very clear here,” Hill said. “If our focus is on the second game, there won’t be one.”