Before the season, Lawrence High’s baseball team set two main goals.
The first — make the state tournament — was probably common to every team in the state. The second — win state — was more ambitious.
After falling 3-2 to seventh-seeded Blue Valley West in the state semifinals Saturday at Kansas University’s Hoglund Ballpark, the latter goal will remain unaccomplished.
“I’m disappointed that these seniors didn’t get a chance to win a state championship,” LHS coach Brad Stoll said.
The Lions also fell in the third-place game to Shawnee Mission East, 13-11.
In the semifinal, LHS junior starting pitcher Garrett Cleavinger struck out the side in the first inning, but he just didn’t have his typically sharp command the rest of the way.
The Jaguars scored two runs in the second inning, the first on an RBI grounder past third baseman Troy Willoughby and the second on an RBI groundout.
Cleavinger ground through the third and fourth innings, but left the game after walking Collin Wiles, the Jaguars’ leadoff hitter, in the fifth. It was Cleavinger’s sixth walk of the day.
“It’s gonna stick with me all year,” Cleavinger said.
Stoll lauded Cleavinger’s pitching this season and refused to put any blame directly on his shoulders.
After all, it was Cleavinger’s stellar performance in the regional final against Manhattan that brought the Lions (14-11) to the state tournament.
“I got all the faith in the world in that kid,” Stoll said. “He’s going to be really special.”
Senior Jake Johnson took the mound, but couldn’t strand Wiles, who raced home on a RBI single by Skyler Gelssinger. From there, Johnson didn’t give up a hit.
The Lions, in their typical tenacious fashion, battled to score two runs in the sixth. Junior Trent Sheppard drove in the second with a line-drive single off the Jaguars’ Ryan Agnitsch on a 1-2 count.
“He threw me two curveballs in a row, and I didn’t look good on them, so I knew he was coming with it again,” Sheppard said. “And he just left it hanging.”
They couldn’t tie the score, but the Lions had a comeback on their minds with the top of their lineup due up in the seventh.
“I really had confidence that we were going to do it,” Stoll said.
But nobody reached base in the seventh inning. Troy Willoughby flied out to deep right field for the final out.
Agnitsch threw a complete game, using a fastball and a sharp curveball in the dirt to keep the Lions off balance.
“That’s the type of pitching we’ve seen all year,” senior Ross Johnson said. “Just one of those days when you don’t get the hits you want to.”
In the consolation game, the Lions took a 5-2 lead through two innings, but the Lancers put up eight in the bottom of the fifth to seize the lead. Both teams used all their remaining pitchers, including some position players.
After a disappointing 2010 season when the Lions didn’t make the state tournament, Stoll put his players through rigorous offseason workouts and a difficult schedule to prepare them better for postseason play.
The state championship dream ended a few hours too early, but Stoll will always remember this team’s tenacity.
The seniors — Ross Johnson, Jake Johnson, Alex Laughlin, Aaron Gile, Trevor Champagne, Corbin Francisco and Jon Pederson — were particularly battle-tested, Stoll said.
“I think they’re the toughest team in the state of Kansas,” Stoll said.