The graduation of Keylan Kilgore, who’s redshirting his first season at Wichita State, hasn’t hampered the Heights pitching staff too much. The Falcons held the City League lead until a doubleheader loss to Kapaun Mount Carmel on Tuesday.
“I think our guys really want the title this year,” Heights coach Jeff Topping said. “We’ve got a great group of senior leaders and they’re giving their all each and every day on the field. It’s fun to watch.”
Heights is 11-3, 9-3 in the City League. Carroll leads the league at 10-2.
Heights’ first five batters in the order are each batting better than .326, led by Blake Duerksen’s .439 average. Creighton Sanders is batting .395 as a leadoff hitter with eight RBIs and nine stolen bases.
“We’ve got guys like Creighton and Blake that are senior leaders,” Topping said. “Blake’s our shortstop, while Creighton controls the outfield. They’ve both got plenty of speed and work hard every day.”
Junior Korey Bice (4-0, 2.43 ERA) leads the pitching staff. Junior Aaron Bechtel (4-2, 2.44) has contributed after being moved from catcher to pitcher this season.
“Aaron has done a really good job for us,” Topping said. “Korey Bice has also been tremendous on the mound for us as well. Both of those guys have really stepped up.”
Heights started 8-0 before falling to Carroll on April 21. In those eight games, the Falcons outscored opponents 67-13, including three shutouts. Since then, the Falcons are 3-3 and have been outscored 24-13.
“The City League is very tough, any team can get beaten on any night,” Topping said. “We knew that Kapaun was going to come out strong, they’re a team that probably plays the toughest schedule in all of 5A. They’ve got some good arms and we didn’t play good enough to win.”
The Falcons will try to pick up some ground Friday when they play Southeast, followed by a non-conference game at Dodge City on Tuesday.
“We’ve still got six games to go before regionals start,” Topping said. “The schedule isn’t going to get any easier as the time goes by. Once regionals come, it’s one and done. We’re hoping to make it farther than we did last year.”
Panthers prowling – Independent seemingly has a team capable of making the program’s fifth Class 3A tournament trip in six years. The Panthers finished third last season.
The Panthers returned seven of their nine starters, including six to All-Central Plains League or coaches’ all-class teams. Independent’s only loss this year was was to Lakin, another ranked team in 3A.
Independent’s pitching staff is led by Luke Boline and Caden Springer, while the defense behind them is solid with Shase Williams (second base), Boline (third base), Springer (first base) and Chad Eikleberry (center field).
The Panthers finish the regular season with a doubleheader against Douglass on Monday at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. Independent will be the top seed for its regional beginning May 16.