Andover Central’s baseball postseason was one tightrope act after another last spring. Both of the Jaguars’ regional victories were one-run games, as was a Class 5A quarterfinal loss to Shawnee Heights.
In each game, right-hander Lucas Milner was on the mound for Central in the most critical situations. At times, he flourished. In others, he held things together without his best stuff.
“Players are really made or broken in tough situations like that,” said Milner, one of five returning senior starters for the Jaguars. “You really see what you’re made of and what you’re teammates are made of in those situations.
“It helped me. I like the pressure. It’s a fun experience whether you do well or do bad.”
More often than not, Central did well. The Jaguars finished 16-5 and won the Ark Valley-Chisholm Trail Division II title. Milner, who also plays second base, went 8-1 with a 1.58 ERA and 50 strikeouts. His victories included a no-hitter against Eisenhower and a four-hit shutout against rival Andover.
“He’s just a bulldog for lack of a better word,” Central coach Grant Bacon said. “He refuses to give in. I think he feels like he can compete with anybody.”
Milner allowed a first-inning run in the state tournament game against Shawnee Heights before matching current Kansas State freshman Jordan Floyd’s two-hit, 10-strikeout performance. Floyd preserved the T-Birds’ 1-0 victory with a game-ending double play, spoiling Central’s first state appearance in three years.
“He was incredible,” said Milner, who has signed to play at Neosho County. “But I think defensively that was one of our best games of the season. An ending like that just makes us even more hungry going into this year.”
Like Milner, senior shortstop Blake Meier has been a regular in the Jaguars’ lineup since his freshman year. First baseman Kier Stamp and outfielder Ryan Banwart are seniors who earned all-league recognition a year ago, while catcher Austin Clark gives Milner and other Central pitchers a familiar face behind the plate.
“We’ve got some great seniors,” Milner said. “They’re great guys who have all put a ton into baseball.”
Bacon is confident his senior group can comprehend his preseason message and relay it to Central’s underclassmen. The Jaguars, who will compete in Class 4A-Division I this spring, open the season April 4 at Newton.
“None of them are done in terms of improving,” Bacon said. “We’ve been trying to hammer that into them. What matters most is what you do each day at practice.
“We have talent, but how are we going to get the most out of that talent?”
AREA BASEBALL PLAYERS TO WATCH
Andale: Tyler Jones, sr.; Clayton Milford, sr.; Phil Savoie, sr.; Kyle Simon, sr.
Andover: Bryant Klusener, sr.; Miles Starks, sr.
Arkansas City: Cam Estrada, sr.; Josh Gurnee, sr.; Bret Grose, jr.
Augusta: Michael Albright, jr.; Mason Hiser, jr.; Garrett Hutson, jr.; Connor Hurst, jr.
Bluestem: Cooper Minnick, jr.; John Stiger, jr.
Buhler: Chase Shantz, jr.; Zac Stiles, jr.; Dillon Engelland, so.; Jace Williams, so.
Campus: John Labelle, sr.; Andrew Shock, sr.; Matthew Johnson, so.
Cedar Vale-Dexter: Kaden Boatman, jr.; Jacody Bratcher, jr.; Colton Massey, jr.
Clearwater: Eric Baughman, sr.; Kyle Robinson, sr.
Collegiate: Max Moxley, sr.; Landon Root, sr.
Derby: Aaron Cheatham, sr.; Christian Cathey, sr.; Derek Newcome, sr.; Garrett Rankin, sr.
Douglass: Chase Banister, sr.; John Gardner, sr.; Rip Fraley, jr.
El Dorado: Easton Smith, sr.; Gage Armstrong, sr.; Spencer Dodson, so.
Eisenhower: Sam Hersh, sr.; Jacob Gibson, jr.; Dalton Dinkel, so.; Braden Minor, so.
Flinthills: Montgomery Moore, sr.; Clay Oates, sr.; Colton Allemand, jr.
Goddard: Conner Kirby, sr.; Leslie Maruo, sr.; Cole Weatherby, sr.
Hillsboro: Jordan Faul, sr.; David Dick, jr.; Jakob Hanschu, jr.
Independent: Mike Kay, sr.; Karson Rowe, sr.; Dominic Rudy, sr.; Tanner Cairns, jr.; Avery Reidmiller, jr.
Inman: Treyton Devore, sr.; Wyatt Regehr, jr.
Maize: Colton Helm, sr.; Brady Hoover, sr.; Drew Johnson, sr.; Seth Troll, sr.; Connor Lungwitz, jr.
Maize South: Hayden Pentecost, sr.; Andrew Sweat, sr.; Anthony Vitale, sr.
McPherson: Austin Mitchell, sr.; Alex Ruxlow, sr.; Brody Burney, so.; Micah McCulley, so.
Moundridge: Hunter Enyart, sr.; Garret Higgins, sr.; Kyle Huxman, sr.
Mulvane: Andrew Berry, sr.; Collin Dempsey, sr.; Trevor Wayman, sr.; Mason LeClair, jr.
Newton: Gunar Drinnen, sr.; Austin Gronau, sr.; Cody Stineman, jr.
Trinity Academy: Josh Palecki, sr.; Jonathan Warnky, sr.; Mitchell List, so.
Udall: Hunter Kistler, jr.; Tanner Roberts, jr.; Alex Perez, so.; Nolan Williams, so.
Valley Center: Braden Holle, sr.; Jason Barbour, jr.; Blake Crager, jr.
Winfield: Clayton Bauer, sr.; Caleb Tapia, sr.; Will Adler, jr.
Word of Life: Dwight Rahming, sr.; Shannon Johnson, jr.; Noah Roberts, so.