By NICK McQUEEN
In a 20-game high school baseball season, it's hard for coaches to get a consistent scouting report when it comes time for the postseason.
What Hays High School baseball coach Frank Leo has learned in three decades with the Indians is players just have to get mentally prepared to come out every play like it's going to be their last.
When it comes to postseason ball, every game could be just that.
That's the philosophy he'll try to instill in his Indians when they take the field today in the Class 5A regional. Hays High's first game is 2 p.m. against Maize South at Goddard-Eisenhower High School.
"The thing you have to take from them is not their record," Leo said of South, (7-12). "But, rather the conference they play in -- a good conference (Ark Valley Chisolm Trail).
"So, we've got to be prepared to play a quality opponent."
The regional originally was scheduled for Thursday, but was moved up because of forecasted inclement weather in the Wichita area.
The Western Athletic Conference champion Indians are 13-7 after ending the regular season with a road split against Liberal. Hays High is looking for a trip back to state after missing out last season.
"We'll prepare to be challenged, and just try and get the mental part of our game to not take a play off," Leo said.
That, and much like they have all season, the third-seeded Indians will have to make the most of their opportunities. Hays High will throw senior right-hander Layne Downing (3-3, 1.01 earned-run average) in Wednesday's game against Maize South. Then, if Hays High wins, senior left-hander Kade Parker (4-3, 0.81) will take the hill against either No. 2 seed Goddard-Eisenhower (17-3) or Goddard (6-13), both of which will be playing in their hometown. That game is slated for 6 p.m.
"We talk about preparing for postseason from Game 1," Leo said. "Try to improve as we go. You can't create every situation that could happen in a ball game, but you try and create situations to prepare them for close games."
Hays High began the season 3-5, before it rattled off eight straight wins, mainly behind stellar pitching. At one point, three of Hays High's top four pitchers were all under 1.00 ERA, but the defense struggled early in close losses.
"Our pitchers have done a good job of keeping us in games," Leo said. "Everyone has to do their part. We have to play good defense behind them, and try to find a way to score runs."
Waiting in the wings are sophomores Marcus Altman (3-1, 2.86) and Cole Schumacher (3-0, 2.30).
The win streak was stopped short at the hands of Salina Central in Game 3 of the Western Plains Diamond Classic. Then, the Indians finished 2-1 through the final three games of the season.
Maize South enters the regional on a three-game slide, including being swept by Salina South, 5-3 and 11-4, then losing 2-1 to Goddard in the season finale.
While Hays High hasn't been overpowering offensively, they've seen a lot of consistency since midseason from sophomore Jared Haynes, and all season from Parker. Haynes is hitting .481 in 11 games with eight RBIs, while Parker is at .419 with eight RBIs. Sophomore Connor Rule (.359) and Downing (.263) lead the team in RBIs with 16 each. Rule and sophomore Dalton Stout lead the Indians in doubles with seven each. Altman and Downing each have homered three times.
"I know we're going to be challenged," Leo said. "We'll just have to execute. We're not a great offensive club. We've had to be opportunistic, and we've got to do that (today)."