Lawrence High baseball coach Brad Stoll, like his Free State High counterpart, Mike Hill, has occupied a dugout seat for every city showdown game played between LHS and Free State.
Formerly an assistant to Hill at FSHS, Stoll has seen too many of the rivalry games to think the Lions’ 3-1 victory over the Firebirds on Monday will have any bearing on Game 2 — 7 tonight at Kansas University’s Hoglund Ballpark.
“We feel like we’ve got a little momentum because the kids feel good,” Stoll said, “but I’ve known Mike Hill for a long, long time, and he’ll have that group of guys ready to go.”
LHS (11-8) will have a different look in the rematch. While the Lions won’t have left-handed ace Garrett Cleavinger on the mound (senior Cameron Solko is scheduled to start), they will have senior center fielder CJ Roush back in the lineup after he missed Game 1 because of an injury.
Though Lawrence beat FSHS (8-11), Firebirds pitchers Ryan Cantrell, Jacob Caldwell and Sam Hearnen held LHS to only three hits Monday.
“You’ve got to give their pitching staff a lot of credit, man, because they threw three different dudes, and you could never really get in a rhythm,” Stoll said.
Junior Lawrence third baseman Shane Willoughby said his team should have swung the bats better, and he expects “another dogfight” in the rematch.
“They’re gonna test us as much as they can,” Willoughby said, “and we’re gonna bring everything we’ve got at them.”
If Free State wants some old-fashioned revenge, sophomore third baseman Cameron Pope said the Firebirds, who also had just three hits Monday, will have to be more productive at the plate.
“We’ve got to execute in key situations,” Pope said, “when we’ve got runners in scoring position.”
Senior FSHS first baseman Montana Samuels couldn’t have agreed more.
“One run’s not gonna get it done,” he said.
Hill knows Free State has to get better offensively. He has said as much throughout the season — after losses and wins.
Coming off a two-run loss to LHS, Hill said baseball is a game of repetition, and he wished it was feasible for high schoolers to play a game every day. The coach said the Firebirds, particularly the younger players, learn something every time they take the field.
“They need to come out here and play, and they need to fail on the field,” Hill said. “You can teach and teach at practice, and we’ve gotten better from that, but getting out between the white lines is really the key to being able to become a better player. Our kids need that.”
A junior, Caldwell is scheduled to be Free State’s starting pitcher tonight.
The rematch is the regular-season finale for both teams.