Archive for Thursday, March 22, 2007

Cardinals to open new season on road at Paola

March 22, 2007

There are three different ways to approach the new season after losing to Bishop Ward via run rule in the state championship game.

A team could vow vengeance, charge through the regular season and enter the state tournament like a red marker on a bad NCAA tournament bracket.

A team could falter under the weight of high expectations, losing the magic it took to sweep through the early part of the previous season's schedule.

Or a team could simply collapse, figuring to have lost whatever touch had made it so confident and bulletproof until that final fateful game.

Well, maybe there's another option. The team could file last year as last year, break in a wealth of new, but promising players and concentrate on combining their attitude with the lessons from a year ago.

Yeah, that one'll work, Eudora baseball coach Dirk Kinney said.

"I told them I'm not worried about what our season record will be," Kinney said. "I'm more worried about going deep in the playoffs again. It was great that we made it there last year because it gave them an experience only so many kids every get to experience, but we just want to control what we can control and not worry about the future.

"We're going to take it game by game just the way we did last year. The goal is the same. We want to win the Frontier league, then regionals, then state."

That Eudora will be able to duplicate their astonishing 24-2 season is far from sure at this point, but Kinney and the Cardinals are confident that no matter what a quick glance around the field would indicate, not much has changed.

Gone are seven leaders from last year's squad, including five first team all-league players. Gone are a first-team pitcher, a first-team catcher and a second-team first baseman.

"Our program has always reloaded every year," senior Kent Swanson said. "It's not rebuilding, it's reloading with this team."

"We come to work every day in practice. We work hard defensively, we do our job offensively and we throw strikes. We didn't have very many guys on the field in that state championship game, but we had a lot of guys watching in the dugout and they know how awesome of an experience it is."

The seeds of a possible return to the season-ending tournament were planted in the summer. Just days after walking off the field with heads hung low, the Cardinals were back on it again for summer league games.

Always important, Kinney said last summer's schedule was even more critical. Not only did it allow the team to regain a measure of confidence, it allowed those that had only watched Eudora run through its schedule in on a slice of the action.

"We got a lot better this summer, and we have some guys that played a lot last season," Kinney said. "Chad Krutz played in the bottom of the lineup and hit a lot. Michael (Ortega) signed (to play collegiately). Morgan Abel's done a nice job at first replacing Chad (Griffin)."

Junior pitcher Kelson Boyer brings back the most experience. His arm was key as Eudora streaked toward the finish last season. The first-team Frontier league choice will also be joined by Swanson, another of the team's top pitchers last year.

Junior Matthew Abel, a second-team selection as a designated hitter, will likely take over in center field for his brother, the graduated Mark.

"It hurt us a little because our goal was to win state and we came up short. But at the same time, they had three or four days off then they started summer ball, then we went and beat Ward twice during the summer," Kinney said. "That made these guys coming back get the idea they were going to be OK. It was a good confidence booster for a lot of kids."

Eudora opens its season at 4:30 p.m. Monday in Paola.

The summer was good, Swanson said. A successful football season helped. But the start of a new season can't come soon enough.

"It's been a long time to have a bad taste in your mouth," he said. "We want to get out there and get started and build on what we did last year."

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