Manhattan Last year, Manhattan High’s baseball team dogpiled right in front of Lawrence High’s dugout after winning the regional championship in dramatic fashion.
So in practice Tuesday, the Lions worked on their dogpiling technique.
Wednesday night at the Eisenhower Baseball Complex, they showed off their preparation after knocking off the Indians, 2-1, to win another dramatic regional championship.
The dogpile was well organized, with the outfielders simultaneously joining the pile near the mound and everyone on the team getting involved.
Most of all, it meant the Lions had made it back to the state tournament.
“That’s definitely redemption for us,” LHS senior center fielder Ross Johnson said.
The Lions defeated Washburn Rural, 4-1, in the regional semifinal to set up their chance at exacting revenge on Manhattan, a 13-1 winner over Topeka.
Junior Garrett Cleavinger went all seven innings in the championship, holding the Indians scoreless after they plated a run on two singles in the first inning.
The Lions (13-9) added two in the top of the sixth inning to snatch the lead.
Cleavinger escaped a one-out, bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the sixth.
And in the final inning, he struck out three of the final four batters, leaving speedy Manhattan senior Dusty Maas — notorious in LHS circles for scoring the game-winning run in last year’s regional championship — stranded on second base.
“Garrett’s a special kid,” LHS coach Brad Stoll said. “He put it all on the line.”
Cleavinger, a lefty, gave up just three hits, all in the first three innings. A couple of Lawrence High errors gave the Indians base-runners to work with, but in the end, it was Cleavinger at the bottom of the dogpile.
His counterpart on the mound, Manhattan senior Thomas Olson, had quite an outing himself, striking out 13 Lions and walking just two.
After the first inning, when the Indians scored their only run, Cleavinger said he knew he had to zone in because of how well Olson was pitching.
“That was all they were getting,” Cleavinger said. “I wasn’t going to allow any others.”
Junior Troy Willoughby walked to start the Lions’ rally in the sixth. He advanced to second on a bunt by senior Aaron Gile. But after junior Matt Sutliffe hit a comebacker to Olson, Willoughby got caught in a pickle between second and third base.
On the third exchange of the pickle, Manhattan shortstop Derek Francis bobbled the ball and hastily tried to flip it to third. The ball flew over the third baseman’s head, and Willoughby scored the tying run.
Senior Corbin Francisco then hit a bloop single to right, but pinch runner Erick Mayo had to hold at second base.
Senior Jake Vinoverski stepped to the plate and lined a ball hard to right field. The Indians’ Brooks DeBord made a valiant diving effort but couldn’t make the catch.
Mayo stepped on the plate, giving the Lions all the runs they needed Wednesday.
Stoll said he was proud of his team’s never-say-die attitude.
“To our kids’ credit, they just keep chipping and chipping and chipping, and it paid off,” Stoll said.
The Lions will have a day or two to relax and enjoy the victory, but it won’t be long until they’re back at Lawrence High, preparing for their first-round opponent in the state tournament.
With a 13-9 record, the Lions will probably draw a low seed in the tournament, which starts May 27 at Kansas University’s Hoglund Ballpark.
That’s nothing new to Stoll.
“Our goal is to have a bigger dogpile in 10 days,” Stoll said.