You can’t make it to state without confidence.
Six other teams have a better seed than Lawrence High baseball for the Class 6A tournament, but as the No. 7 seed hometown Lions see it, they are as capable as anyone else of winning three games and a championship this weekend at Kansas University’s Hoglund Ballpark.
“Inside the confines of our group,” LHS coach Brad Stoll said, “we feel like we’re the favorite to win the whole thing.”
That might be news to the No. 1 seed Maize Eagles (21-1), the defending 6A champs who are making their fifth straight state appearance and have lost once in their last 47 games.
No. 2 seed Blue Valley West (20-2) likely considers itself a heavy favorite, too, as it prepares to take on Lawrence (14-8) in the first round at 4 p.m. this afternoon. The Jaguars beat LHS, 3-2, in the 2011 state semifinals, and BVW ace right-handed pitcher Collin Wiles, now a senior, didn’t even throw in that game.
The Lions expect to see Wiles this time around, and will counter with their own ace, left-handed senior Garrett Cleavinger (2.04 ERA, 75 strikeouts, 48 innings pitched).
Senior center fielder CJ Roush said it will be up to the Lions’ hitters to support their starting pitcher.
“It’s definitely gonna be a pitcher’s duel,” Roush said, “and I think the team that comes out and puts pressure on the other guy is probably gonna be the victor.”
Between himself, Shane and Troy Willoughby, Drew Green, Jake Vinoverski, Matt Sutliffe, CJ Stuever, Cleavinger, Trevor Champagne and Kieran Severa, Roush (.441 batting average, 14 RBI) said everyone has contributed offensively to a win at one point or another this season.
Junior third baseman and leadoff hitter Shane Willoughby (.388, 20 runs scored) said the Lions are confident they can challenge Wiles.
“Even if it’s a good arm,” he said, “we should still be able to score runs.”
LHS has won five of its last six games, a stretch in which Stoll said his team has played much better baseball. Those victories — especially a regional championship win over Olathe Northwest — has added to the players’ confidence.
“They honestly believe that they’re the toughest guys on the block,” Stoll said. “They’ve got a little swagger and a little edge to them right now.”
Shane Willoughby said that could actually help them improve.
“We haven’t proven how good we are,” he said. “We haven’t played our best yet.”
The Lions think they might have saved their best for the biggest weekend of the season.
Said Roush: “Right now, we just have the mindset that we’re not gonna lose again.”