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SPOTLIGHT
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Spiller commentary: Hays Legion off to amazing, historic start

Published on -7/3/2012, 1:33 PM

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By KLINT SPILLER

Athletics often provide lessons that translate well to life.

If you work hard, you can put yourself in a position to win. However, not every winning effort is rewarded.

Every year, more seniors finish their careers with tears in their eyes than with fists pumped in the air, but just because they fell short, it doesn't mean their effort was in vain. After all, the journey often is better than the destination.

Nevertheless, it's tough to watch solid efforts go unrewarded with the ultimate prize.

That's how I feel when I watch this Hays Senior Legion baseball team play.

At 28-4, the Hays Eagles are on a pace bordering on ridiculous.

They've won 87.5 percent of their games. That's an impressive free throw percentage, let alone winning percentage.

The best team in Hays legion history was the 1974 team that went 35-5, also an 87.5 winning percentage, and won state. I'm not saying they are going to match that finish, but that's pretty good company to be keeping pace with.

The Eagles have accomplished a lot in a short amount of time -- something this community has come to expect.

Many members of this year's squad are from Hays High where they accumulated a record of 73-18 in the past four seasons, but they've never managed to get past the first round of state.

This year, I was on site to cover Hays High play at state. I seriously thought this could have been the year where the Indians went all the way.

They seemed to have it all, but it didn't happen. They got a bad draw and faced a NCAA Division I quality pitcher in the first round.

It was heart wrenching to watch four-year starter Riley Kaus collapse to the ground outside the field of Wichita State University's Eck Stadium after ending his career with an 8-0 loss to Stilwell-Blue Valley.

But that's life, and sometimes in life you get a bad draw.

These players have consumed themselves with baseball, devoting half a year to the thick of baseball season year after year. Their efforts have produced a lot of hardware at Hays High, including three sub-state championships, three WAC championships and two Western Diamond Classic championships, but not the most prestigious trophy.

There's only one Eagle who has earned a state trophy in the spring, and that player isn't from Hays High and it wasn't in baseball. Clayton Basgall of La Crosse was a part of this spring's Class 1A state championship track and field team.

If anyone deserves to win a state title, it's the Eagles.

To them, it might not seem as special winning a state title in American Legion baseball, but in a lot of ways, it's almost more impressive than a high school state championship.

They play an extremely condensed schedule. They've played 32 games in 34 days, and yet, they've still managed to win 28 of them.

That's a remarkable achievement considering the pitching depth and fortitude needed to last that many innings in the sweltering heat of summer.

Not only that, but many of the teams they face are the cream of the crop in their city. The Salina Falcons aren't just made up of players from one school.

The Falcons are an all-star team of Saline County, featuring some of the best talent from Salina South, Salina Central, Salina-Sacred Heart, Gypsum-Southeast of Saline and Brookville-Ell-Saline.

This is the case for many of the bigger cities. Meanwhile, Hays, a city with 27,000 fewer people than Salina, spreads its talents between two legion teams. It's a positive overall, giving players more opportunities to play, but by doing that, they don't quite elicit the all-star-like comparisons other legion teams do.

However, they keep winning anyway. For many of the players on this Eagles' squad, this summer will be their last chance to win a state title. It would be fun to see all their efforts culminate in the ultimate prize.

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