When Wilson Kilmer left the Lawrence Raiders program he coached last summer to start a new 18-and-under baseball team, he needed a mascot that summed up the new group.
He found it with “Cactus,” a moniker he says aptly describes the Lawrence-based program.
“(A cactus) thrives when it’s hot and dusty,” said Kilmer. “And ... the coach is kind of prickly, too.”
And so the Lawrence Cactus was born, a group made up primarily of Lawrence High and Free State players — many of whom were members of last season’s Raiders team but made the switch after a number of changes to Legion-based team, including a “no pay-to-play” policy that began this summer.
“We have a lot of older guys, we have some experience, and they’re not going to be too awed by anybody they run into,” said Kilmer, whose team will open the home portion of its schedule at 6 p.m. today at Ice Field in Lawrence.
“Last year, we played a team out of Springfield that had seven kids drafted on it. So these kids have seen a lot.”
They’ve also experienced a good deal of success along the way.
Last year’s team finished third in the Legion AAA state tournament, and so far this season, the Cactus have picked up where they left off a year ago.
The team rolled to a 5-2 record to open the summer, including a 3-0 showing in last weekend’s Sam Ellis Memorial Tournament in Emporia, during which it outscored its three opponents by a combined score of 30-9 to earn a semifinal berth that was eventually rained out.
Those who have been part of Kilmer’s program over the past two seasons include son Tanner Kilmer, plus Ryan Scott, Adam Petz, Taylor Gentry, Cody Jones, Coulter Vestal — players who, coming from some of the most successful prep teams in the state over the past two seasons, have been used to winning games with relative ease.
“Some of them, it’s the last time they’ll play before going off to college,” Kilmer said. “For some of them, it might be the last time they’ll play competitively — not all are going on to play college ball. It could be the last go-round for some of them, so we want to make it an enjoyable time.
“And it’s usually funner when you win.”