Perry — Zach Linquist, who graduated from Perry-Lecompton High over the weekend, wants to add state champion baseball player to his long list of amazing feats. He remembers the day when nobody at the school would have had the guts to state such a goal publicly.
“When I was in my freshman year, I was so excited to get here, and then a kid who was a junior told me: ‘People here don’t really care about baseball. They’ve been trying to cut it over the years. It’s honestly a joke,’” Linquist said.
He and classmates didn’t find that to be a funny joke, so they did something about it. They listened to a coach determined to transform the baseball program from a punch line to a powerhouse.
Seniors Brandon Eddy, Linquist, Daniel Munoz-Crow and Charlie Shuck have followed the lead of fifth-year head coach Kent Houk, a name the Lawrence baseball community would recognize from his days as a middle infielder for father Walt Houk’s Maupintour Travelers semi-pro baseball team. Baseball fans everywhere would recognize the last name. The Houks of Lawrence are cousins of the late Ralph Houk, a backup catcher to Yogi Berra on the Yankees and later manager of the Yankees, Tigers and Red Sox, born in Lawrence in 1919.
To hear Linquist tell it, Kent Houk, 52, inherited the winning gene.
“He knows what he’s doing,” Linquist said.
He looked out at an outfield fence lined with advertisements and said, “Before coach got here, this field was a joke. It didn’t even have a warning track.”
Perry-Lecompton’s victory totals in order, in Houk’s five seasons: 4, 8, 12, 16, 17 and counting. The Kaws open the 4A playoffs today in Ozawkie vs. Holton.
How did Houk do it?
“I think it’s just a mindset,” Houk said. “They kept getting close, kept competing. Then they turned the corner and started winning games, started believing in everything they were doing. And it doesn’t hurt to have good baseball players. This senior class is a pretty special group of kids.”
None more so than Linquist, who was in the news during the winter for missing just three basketball games after being diagnosed with leukemia. Now he’s making news for his dominant performances on the mound and at the plate.
Linquist is batting .522 with 29 RBIs for the 17-3 Kaws. Closing games, he has a 0.23 ERA. In 26 innings, he has allowed 16 hits and eight walks and has 46 strikeouts. He signed with Washburn University, where he will play for his grandfather, Steve Anson, in the coach’s 36th season at the school.
Linquist is one tough teenager.
He said he had been feeling sick for about a year and finally was talked by his grandmother into seeing a doctor and only then did he do so because bruises started appearing all over his body.
“I was diagnosed with leukemia Oct. 2,” he said. “I cried for a minute, and then I actually saw my dad crying, and then I knew from then on out I had to be positive and I couldn’t let it get to me. I was actually supporting people when I was in the hospital, telling them I was going to be all right.”
The disease, which he said he fights with medication he expects to take for the rest of his life, has not kept him from dominating, but he said he still feels its bite at times.
“I’m supposed to drink six to eight bottles of water a day,” he said. “If I don’t get enough, my body feels like it just shuts down. There are definitely days that I feel awful, but I think leukemia has bettered me as a person. It’s made me more mature. It’s made me appreciate things in life more.”
Linquist talked about the things he appreciates most. His father, who is raising him; his girlfriend; his teammates; and his baseball coach.
“He never second-guesses himself,” Linquist said of Houk. “Whatever he thinks is right he does it. We may not agree with it at the time, but then after practice we’re like, ‘OK, it actually worked.’ He knows what he’s doing.”