Since the start of practice this season, the Thomas More Prep-Marian baseball team has been reminded almost every day of the heartbreaker they suffered in the first round of the Class 3A state tournament a year ago.
"At our place, from Day 1 at practice, we've got about a 24-by-36 picture of the scoreboard last year in Manhattan from last year's state tournament," said TMP coach Dustin Washburn of an extra-inning loss to Marion/Lost Springs-Centre. "I remember the feeling after that game. That was probably the first time that I could tell for the group of juniors, that are now seniors, that it started to click. You could tell it really bothered them that they got beat."
TMP will get the chance to erase the sting of last year's loss in its return trip to the 3A tournament. The top-seeded Monarchs (21-1) take on Wellsville (19-4) in the first round 3:30 p.m. Thursday at Kansas State University’s Tointon Family Stadium.
"It's exciting to see, if you go back to Day 1 last year to the end of the season this year, the growth amongst them," Washburn said. "They enjoy the game of baseball, they enjoy being around each other and they've got a good mentality going into this thing."
The senior-laden Monarchs have embraced the high expectations from the get-go. TMP was rarely challenged this year and breezed through their regional in Lakin by beating Scott Community 15-0 and Colby 6-0.
"I've always talked about from Day 1 that our goal was to win a state championship, and I'm going to reiterate that because as a coach and as a coaching staff, we're competitive people," Washburn said. "In order to make that happen, these kids have to buy in and they've bought in 100 percent. They're working their tails off, they're showing up for practice and they're doing the little things right, which is a sign of a team that's got a really good chance to do something."
Adam Gottschalk leads a balanced lineup at the plate for the Monarchs hitting .471 while Brady Kreutzer is batting .448. Chase Werth has a team-high 31 runs driven in.
Werth has given up just five runs on the mound in 29 innings for a 1.21 ERA. Cole Zimmerman's allowed just eight runs in 41 innings for a 1.37 ERA, while Tate Garcia (1.73 ERA) and Trenton Mayo (2.95 ERA) have also been sharp.
Washburn believes TMP's pitching depth can be an asset.
"If we get to where we want to be in the state championship, there's a decent chance that one of our sophomores is going to have to step up and toe the rubber in that game, and we made that clear to them," Washburn said. "We want to make sure that they understand that we have the utmost confidence in them.
"We've got the four seniors that we're going to ride as far as we can, but in order to get to where we want to be we've got to get through the first couple games. Whatever it takes. If we got to use two or there arms in one game, that's what we'll do to make sure we can get to the next step."
The winner will advance to the semifinals at 1:15 p.m. Friday to face either Riley County (19-2) or Humboldt (20-3). The other side of the bracket features first-round matchups between Cherokee/Southeast (20-1) and Sabetha (20-3), and Marion/Lost Springs-Centre (21-2) vs. Cheney (20-3).
The state championship game is slated for 5:45 p.m. Friday.