Free State High baseball coach Mike Hill opted not to start pitching ace Dane McCullough this past weekend at the three-day River City Baseball Festival, and with good reason. Though the senior right-hander threw two innings of relief Friday to help the Firebirds beat Rogers, Ark., in eight innings, Hill never planned to use McCullough Saturday against Blue Valley Northwest, the first team to beat FSHS this season.
The 16th-year Free State coach said his team’s primary objective is to contend for a Sunflower League title, and the Firebirds (11-1) set up their weekend rotation accordingly. Hill wanted McCullough (4-0) on the mound when FSHS returned to league play against Olathe South (9-3) — a game originally scheduled for Tuesday, but moved to today because of cold, wet weather.
Moving past first ‘L’
Considering the Firebirds only lost 3-0 to BVNW in their first setback of the season, senior shortstop Anthony Miele didn’t expect it would take them long to get over it. Miele expected the players would stick together as a group.
“It’s our first loss, so you know it’s gonna be a little hard,” Miele said, “but we have Olathe South coming up ... big league game, so we’ve got to look forward to that game.”
4-0 in extras
Free State won its fourth extra-inning game of the season Friday against Rogers — “We’re making a habit out of it,” Hill said, with a reluctant chuckle. Some defensive mistakes allowed Rogers to extend the game, which didn’t please the coach.
“But I was proud of the way they battled, and they always seem to do that,” Hill added. “They have a little resiliency about them, which I certainly admire. ... Hopefully we can stay out of that situation to begin with.”
Caldwell doing it all
FSHS senior Jacob Caldwell earned a pitching victory Thursday, then went 3-for-5, with four RBIs and a walk-off hit Friday. But teammate Joe Dineen said Caldwell’s glove and agility at first base have been just as valuable.
“He’s a wall over there,” Dineen said. “If you see a ball get by him, it’s rare. He knocks everything down, he scoops everything. He makes everyone look pretty damn good.”
Caldwell dove to rob Rogers’ Brett DaMico of a potential extra-base hit down the first-base line in the top of the third Friday. In the top of the eighth, he raced down a foul pop-up to end the Mountaineers’ inning with a runner on second base.
Lawrence High baseball coach Brad Stoll wasn’t completely discouraged after the Lions lost all three of their games at the River City Baseball Festival. Stoll said LHS (8-5) took a definite step backward Thursday in a 20-1 loss to Omaha Creighton Prep, Neb. But he thought the Lions improved overall while struggling to produce runs in a 4-0 Friday loss to Lee’s Summit West, Mo., and a 2-1, 11-inning setback Saturday versus Maize.
“That’s a state tournament type of game,” Stoll said after the Maize loss, “and that’s the environment we want to put our kids in.”
LHS’ Hoglund flashback
After Maize’s Blake Buzard drove in the winning run versus LHS Saturday at Kansas University’s Hoglund Ballpark with a double down the left-field line, Stoll immediately flashed back to Lawrence’s 1-0 loss to Blue Valley West in the first round of the 2012 Class 6A state tournament. Tanner Gragg’s walk-off hit for BVW also dropped in shallow left, barely fair.
“I hate that left-field foul line,” Stoll said. “I’ve spent a whole year trying to wash that memory out of my head and another one drops in.”
Lions eager to move on
LHS junior catcher Drew Green said pitchers Brandon Bell, Shane Willoughby, CJ Stuever and Parker Kirkpatrick all did their jobs in the Lions’ losses Friday and Saturday, and the offense just didn’t help them out. Green said that should keep the players from feeling disheartened as they prepared for today’s game at Olathe North, which was postponed a day due to inclement weather.
“We played three quality opponents,” Green said of the festival. “You can’t really hold your head too much on that. We’ve just got to get back at practice and work, polish up some things.”
Stuever said the timing of the slump could have been worse: “I’m glad we’re getting all our bad baseball out of the way, and I know it’s gonna make us better come postseason.”