Yes, the Lawrence High baseball team entered the 2010 season with some rather lofty expectations. And, yeah, after starting the season ranked 33rd nationally by Baseball America, a .500 regular season isn’t quite what the defending Class 6A state champions had in mind.
But on the eve of today’s 2 p.m. matchup with fifth-seeded Olathe Northwest (9-10) in the opening round of the regional tournament, the No. 4-seeded Lions (10-10) aren’t ready to call it a season quite yet.
“We certainly didn’t expect to be 10-10, but I was honest with the kids that it would be real, real tough to go 21-4 again,” said LHS coach Brad Stoll, citing his team’s record during last year’s state-championship season. “All the adversity we’ve faced, all these tough teams we’ve lined ourselves up against, is for this: to prepare ourselves for the last five games in May.”
On paper, the Lions feature as deep and talented a roster as any in the state. They’re led by standout pitcher Albert Minnis, who has signed to play at Wichita State next season, and a number of players who saw time during last spring’s state-title run.
What hasn’t always been there, however, is execution — the biggest concern for Stoll as his team enters what, without a pair of inspired efforts, could be its final day of the season.
“There’s no doubt that as a staff we feel we’re talented enough to get there,” Stoll said. “But we have to play better. We have to take our talent and match it with some execution.”
It won’t be easy. Assuming they secure a first-round victory over Olathe Northwest — a team that showed glimpses of promise throughout the season — the Lions likely will have to get past a Manhattan team that finished the regular season 17-3 to earn the regional tournament’s No. 1 seed.
What’s more, they’ll have to do it coming off a recent stretch that has been less than stellar, including four losses in their past six games and a pair of losses to rival Free State High to close out the regular season.
“That was kind of hard, losing three games in a row, and two against your rival,” senior Chris Parker said. “I think everyone’s playing with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder, trying to prove our record (shouldn’t be) what it is.”
Despite its recent woes, however, it’s important to note that Lawrence High has shown an impressive ability in recent years to turn it on in the postseason.
Perhaps nowhere was this more apparent than in 2008, when the Lions entered the regional tournament seeded seventh out of eight teams before notching back-to-back regional upsets and advancing within one victory of the state title game.
“It’s like a new start,” LHS senior Chase McElhaney said. “It’s like a whole other season. Coaches have stepped up the intensity and shown us that one loss and we’re done.”
If the Lions are in need of a little extra motivation, there’s this: This year’s Class 6A state tournament will be held at Kansas University’s Hoglund Ballpark, meaning two victories today would allow them to defend their state title in their own backyard.
As Stoll put it, “We don’t want to say goodbye quite yet.”