Lawrence, Free State fall in baseball openers to start 2021 campaign
photo by: Chance Parker/Journal-World Photo
A loss in the season opener is never the end of the world, and that was especially true of the Lawrence High baseball team’s 7-3 loss to Sioux Falls Lincoln on Friday, because the Lions hadn’t played since 2019.
After a game in which LHS gave up three runs in the sixth inning, a few seniors reassured their teammates that this was just one bad day and that there were still plenty of games left to play.
“It’s not like we just lost the state championship,” senior Devin Neal said. “It’s the first game of the season, opening day. We knew we were going to make mistakes; we knew we were going to be a little bit rusty.”
“The good thing about it is that it’s the first game and we know there are going to be mistakes,” he added. “That means we can get better.”
The Lions’ return to the diamond has “been a long time coming,” Lawrence head coach Brad Stoll said.
“It was pretty exciting to be out here on a beautiful day,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s just fun to be playing baseball with this awesome group of kids.”
And Friday might have been even more exciting for LHS had it not been for a rocky sixth inning.
In the bottom of the fifth, LHS scratched and clawed its way back to even the score at 3-3. But then, in the top of the sixth, the Lions immediately gave up three runs.
Lawrence pitcher Ike Cobb walked the first two batters to start the inning, and things unraveled after that. Payton Hughes’ two-run triple helped Sioux Falls Lincoln reclaim the lead, and Jackson Boe followed suit with an RBI single to grab a 6-3 advantage for the visitors.
The sixth was “a little deflating because the first two guys were leadoff walks,” Stoll said. “You have a little momentum, you have to get that leadoff hitter out. Again, it’s a great opportunity to learn.”
The Patriots tacked on one more run in the seventh off reliever Jackson Dooley.
Cobb, who got the nod in the opener, had a solid showing on the mound outside of two rough innings — he also gave up three runs in the third. He struck out eight batters and walked two, posting a strike on 72.1% of his 86 total pitches.
“I thought he looked really comfortable,” Stoll said. “He was obviously really, really pumped up to take the mound. He’s a big-time arm and he’s going to be really special for us.”
Lawrence’s defense delivered behind Cobb, with Braden Hoffman making the best play of the day. The LHS right fielder threw a laser to catch a Patriot runner trying to extend a single into a double to end the top of the fourth.
But on offense, the Lions just weren’t able to string enough quality at-bats together. They scored all three runs in the fifth, which started with a double from August Reed. Blake Schimmel then drove in pinch runner Truman Juelsgaard on a single to right. Carlos Vasquez later brought Schimmel home on a hard-hit ball up the middle. Jack Stoll scored the game-tying run on a balk, but LHS never was able to play in front.
What do the Lions need to do to improve? Neal had some ideas.
“Just improving our quality at-bats,” he said. “Being more competitive at the plate. I think defensively we played great. They hit the ball extremely well, and hats off to them.”
As a team, the Lions finished with just five hits. Neal had two of those in his four at-bats to lead the way on the offensive end.
Brad Stoll said that because of the Lions’ long layoff, a little rust should be expected. The team’s last action was in the substate championship on May 16, 2019.
“I think we are going to come around offensively,” Stoll said. “The more live pitching we see, the better off we are going to be.”
The Lions won’t have to wait long for another chance to shake off the rust. They’ll host Sioux Falls Washington at 10 a.m. today.
Sioux Falls Lincoln 7, Lawrence 3
SFL 0 0 3 0 0 3 1 — 7 runs 9 hits 1 error
LHS 0 0 0 0 3 0 0 — 3 runs 5 hits 2 errors
Free State baseball falls in opener
On the other side of town, Free State’s baseball team didn’t fare any better.
The Firebirds’ brand-new roster was beaten 8-1 by Sioux Falls Washington at home. Free State has only one returning player from its 2019 runner-up team, so Friday was a new experience for the entire squad.
“I think they were juiced,” FSHS head coach Mike Hill said. “There were some nerves. That was apparent from the get-go, and honestly that was to be expected. As the game wore on, they got a little more comfortable and played a little bit better.”
After the game, Hill had a lengthy talk with his team about how the Firebirds could learn from the season-opening loss. They will have a chance to respond when they host Sioux Falls Lincoln at 11 a.m. today.
Hill said he told his team “just to learn from what didn’t go our way today.”
“We didn’t play the way we hoped to play, but they are a good group and they are learning,” he said. “We are anxious to get back out on the field tomorrow morning and play.”
Things did start out well for the Firebirds. Drew Bradford began the bottom of the first with a leadoff walk. After a groundout by Joey Wood, Bradford was brought home on a sacrifice fly by Maddox Burkitt.
That sequence led to an early 1-0 lead for the hosts, but Free State didn’t find much success after that. Sioux Falls Washington scored five runs in the top of the third, thanks to a lot of free passes on walks or hit batters. In total, FSHS gave up 11 free passes via walks or hit batters and had five errors on Friday.
That was a stark contrast to the last FSHS team, a group that made it all the way to the state championship game behind a brilliant rotation in 2019.
“Our program has been built on pitching and defense,” Hill said. “I think that’s a lot of new people trying to make their mark. They want to impress and they want to do the right thing.”
The Warriors added to their lead by scoring one run in each of the last three innings of play.
Free State never plated another run, but plenty of players got their first taste of varsity experience.
Will Dawson had his moments in relief on the mound, including back-to-back strikeouts in the seventh. He gave up two runs on four hits over three innings. Wood and Gage Callaghan were responsible for the only two hits of the day by Free State.
Jake Roszak, Anthony Lewis and Keaton Stramberg each got a plate appearance over the final two innings after not starting the game.
All things considered, though, the Firebirds won’t complain about the result after going 665 days without being able to play a baseball game.
“Even though it wasn’t a good day for the Firebirds on the field, the fact we were on the field really means a lot,” Hill said.
Sioux Falls Washington 8, Free State 1
SFW 0 0 5 0 1 1 1 — 8 runs 8 hits 0 errors
FSHS 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 — 1 run 2 hits 5 errors