Mike Hill has been around long enough to know that a single standout pitcher can carry a team through a postseason game or two.
So despite entering today’s 4:30 p.m. regional matchup with visiting Topeka High as a significant favorite — the Firebirds (16-4) are seeded second in the tournament; Topeka High (7-13) is seeded seventh — Hill isn’t planning a victory party just yet, given the Trojans’ expected starter.
“He’s an exceptional pitcher,” said the FSHS coach of Ty Geary. “... Baseball is so different (from other sports) because matchups are so important. Teams may not have a lofty record, but they can come in here with one guy, and it’s a whole different ballgame.”
If the name Geary sounds familiar, it should.
Against Lawrence High in the opening round of last spring’s regional tournament, Geary pitched 62⁄3 innings of no-hit baseball before the Lions put together a dramatic comeback, scoring three runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to escape with a 3-2 victory.
In other words, the Lions, who went to win the Class 6A state title, were one out away from a first-round exit thanks primarily to Geary’s performance.
The good news, for those with pro-Free State tendencies, is that the Firebirds have been no strangers to standout pitchers this season, facing off against multiple Div. I prospects.
And, generally, the results have been encouraging.
Against Blue Valley Northwest last month, for instance, the Firebirds battered Missouri signee Jason Adams in a 10-1 victory, while last week’s 7-5 victory over Lawrence High came against Wichita State-bound pitcher Albert Minnis, one of the state’s top prep prospects.
“We’ve faced a ton of good pitchers this season,” Free State senior Bo Schneider said. “Everybody pretty much throws their best pitcher against us, but we’ve still got to go into this game with our head on straight.”
As has been the case for much of the season, the Firebirds’ bats likely will determine their level of success entering this postseason.
If they’re able to reach base and move runners with regularity, which they’ve typically done well, they’re one of the state’s toughest teams to beat.
If not, an earlier-than-expected postseason exit isn’t out of the question.
“Our main thing has been hitting,” first baseman Michael Lisher said. “When we hit, we’re a pretty good team. When we don’t hit, we’re not very good.”
The fact that the Firebirds, who’ll play the winner of the matchup between No. 3 seed Washburn Rural and No. 6 seed Leavenworth at 7 tonight if they win their opening game, will be hosting a regional should make their quest a bit easier, and while Hill said his team has left something to be desired over the past few games — two of its four losses this season have come during the past six games — he’s confident the Firebirds will be ready to go by today’s first pitch.
“I don’t think we played exceptionally well over the last couple weeks,” Hill said. “Every season has its ebbs and flows and ups and down, and the last couple of weeks haven’t been our best week of baseball.
“But we’re definitely ready to put our best foot forward as we head into the playoffs.”