In an interesting draw, two of the three returning teams in the Kansas AAA American Legion State baseball tournament will square off in the first round today at JayCee Ballpark.

In an interesting draw, two of the three returning teams in the Kansas AAA American Legion State baseball tournament will square off in the first round today at JayCee Ballpark.
The Lawrence Raiders (16-23), who will be making their seventh straight trip to state, will take on the Hays Eagles (21-18) in the second game of the day.
A twist to the game is that Lawrence is the team that knocked Hays out of last year’s state tournament with an 18-2 win. Lawrence went on to lose to Pittsburg — the third returning team in the tournament — in the championship.
“I think all the guys have thought about that,” said Eagles’ head coach Mike Jenner. “We will see if we can give them a good game.”
And the Raiders know that their pedigree means there could be a bull’s eye painted on their backs.
“One thing I am pretty sure of is that we probably, even with a losing record, won’t be overlooked by anyone,” said Raiders’ first-year head coach Wilson Kilmer. “I just think, from a historic point, we may have a target on our backs.”
Both teams come in with a young squad as Lawrence has just two college freshmen and two graduated high school seniors on their squad. Not to mention the fact that Lawrence also comes in to the tournament with a losing record — due in large part to their schedule of playing showcase tournaments as opposed to state opponents.
“We’ve played a pretty aggressive schedule and our record shows that,” Kilmer said, “Some people were worried about our record and that is against the Lawrence tradition but, it is how I went about it.”
However, Jenner is not fooled by that fact.
“They have a losing record but it is very deceiving,” Jenner said. “They knocked us out last year and, I hope that will be at the back of our minds tomorrow.”
As for pitching, Hays will rely heavily on Fort Scott Community College signee Jesse Hart. Hart is a deceptive 4-3 on the season and stands 6-foot-6.
“He has probably been our work horse,” Jenner said. “He has also been our hard luck pitcher too because we have only been able to score a few runs for him.”
The Raiders have three pitchers — Mitch Whitson, Taylor Gentry and Drew Noble — that they have rested upon.
“I feel pretty good about it,” Kilmer said. “That is something that we have done pretty well all season long. They have all had their struggles but, they have still pitched pretty well.”
Neither coach is worried about facing the other — especially in a bracket where there are five teams that have not been in the state tournament in recent memory.
“You are going to have to beat them all basically to get to where you want to be,” Jenner said. “In my opinion, Lawrence is the second-best team behind Pittsburg in this tournament.”
“I am glad to be there against whoever is there,” Kilmer said. “Hays is a good program.”
The two teams will face off shortly after the opening game of the tournament, which begins at 11 a.m., concludes at JayCee Ballpark.

Matthew Clark can be reached at matthew.clark@morningsun.net or at 620-231-2600, Ext. 140. Follow Morning Sun sports at twitter.com/mssports