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Free State baseball looks to find identity

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Free State High’s baseball team is looking to figure out its identity for the upcoming season after returning just six seniors from its Sunflower League championship team a year ago.

Plenty of underclassmen will have an opportunity to make a strong first impression when the Firebirds open play at 1 p.m. Friday with a doubleheader against Warrensburg High at FSHS.

“Unlike many years, it’s going to be more of a process for us to determine the right fit in terms of players and positions and how it all works,” Firebirds coach Mike Hill said. “It’s not necessarily what you desire as a coach but that’s just where we are right now and that is because we do have a lot of youngsters that are in the mix and trying to get some familiarity with them. It’s just going to take some time.”

Seniors pointed out that a few newcomers have stood out in the preseason practices: freshman Jay Dineen, freshman Zion Bowlin, freshman Jacob Pavlyak and sophomore Hunter Gudde. The Firebirds will also have to overcome an injury to junior outfielder Joel Spain.

"We got a few freshman coming up that are probably going to play varsity minutes so that should be exciting to see," senior Ryan Cantrell said.

The Firebirds will turn to seniors Cameron Pope, Ryan Cantrell and Zach Bickling, among other returners, for leadership early in the season as they hope to defend their league title.

“I think expectations never change,” Hill said. “For us, it’s about competing for championships. Do we get there? Time will tell, but we’re never going to change expectations for our program.”

Despite the roster turnover, one big plus has been the good weather. Unlike past years with snow and rain throughout March and early April, the Firebirds have been able to practice outside on their turf field. Whether that gives them an advantage, the players say we'll have to wait and see.

"We have to figure out what we’re going to do and how we’re going to play," senior Tyler Walmsley said. "But it has to start with everybody on the same page and working hard."

Cantrell added: "Are we going to be a pitching team? Defensive? We just don’t know yet. …I guess we’ll see tomorrow."

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