Free State High already has secured the Sunflower League baseball championship.
Today, the Firebirds could add some wow factor to that achievement by beating rival Lawrence High in the City Showdown — 5 p.m. at FSHS — and finishing undefeated in the league.
Senior Free State designated hitter and pitcher Sam Hearnen said going 11-0 in the league would be a big deal and another chance for the Firebirds (16-2) to show just how good they are.
“One of our big goals at the beginning of the year was to prove to people we could do stuff they thought we couldn’t,” Hearnen said.
Of course, the Lions (12-6 overall, 8-2 Sunflower League) wouldn’t mind being the only league team to beat Free State. Still, LHS senior right fielder and pitcher Adam Rea said there is much more to it than that.
“We know the people there,” Rea said of FSHS. “It’s not as much about them winning the Sunflower League as it is (that) they’re our friends, and we want to beat them.”
Free State’s season ended last year with three straight losses to the Lions, so Firebirds senior shortstop Anthony Miele and his teammates don’t take their rivals lightly. He said they would consider defeating LHS an accomplishment in its own right.
Pitching and defense have carried FSHS all spring, and Miele said senior ace Dane McCullough (6-0), who will start today against LHS senior CJ Stuever (2-0), is the missing piece Free State lacked in 2012. The Firebirds have only lost twice this season, and Miele said the problem was clear.
“Our pitching was great in those two games,” the senior said. “Our offense just wasn’t there at the time. And our situational hitting wasn’t there, which has been there for us the whole year. If our pitching’s there, we’re always in the game.”
The best thing going for LHS against Free State, senior shortstop Shane Willoughby added, might be that the Lions are so battle-tested.
“Coach (Brad) Stoll always tries to get a ruthless schedule,” the senior said, “and I think this year is probably the best schedule we’ve played in the four years I’ve been here.”
Stoll said the Firebirds rarely lose, because they’re so well prepared.
“Even in games where their run production might not be what coach (Mike) Hill wants it to be,” Stoll said, “they find a way to win.”
If Hill’s Firebirds can beat Lawrence today, they would be the first team to go unbeaten in league play since 2008, when Free State pulled off the feat for the first time in program history.
“It’s not necessarily the primary focus,” Hill said. “What’s important for us is to have a good week of baseball. And by that I don’t mean just the two games that we play, but our practices. The week after, you’re right into the postseason, and you don’t want to go into that with a poor taste in your mouth.”
Lawrence probable starters
P — CJ Stuever
C — Drew Green
1B — Jacob Seratte
2B — Michael Sinks
3B — Parker Kirkpatrick
SS — Shane Willoughby
LF — Easton Barnes
CF — Kieran Severa
RF — Adam Rea
Free State probable starters
P — Dane McCullough
C — Lee McMahon
1B — Jacob Caldwell
2B — Cooper Karlin
3B — Cameron Pope
SS — Anthony Miele
LF — Joe Dineen
CF — Joel Spain
RF — Zach Bickling
DH — Sam Hearnen