Carroll advances to state tournament on walk-off
He thought of failure, but it ended in a dogpile.
Carroll senior RJ Lara sent his team to the Kansas Class 5A state high school baseball tournament as he delivered a two-RBI walk-off in the Eagles' 5-4 regional final against Valley Center on Tuesday. Before he did that, he remembered a time when he didn't.
April 13, Lara was in the same spot against Heights with a chance to make a leap toward a City League title. With the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh, Lara stepped up and flied out to center field.
He said he was thinking about that before his at-bat Tuesday.
"I'm telling myself, 'Not this time,' " Lara said. "Once I stepped to the plate, that all cleared out."
Lara and the rest of the Eagles showed incredible poise in the bottom of the seventh. Carroll had given up three runs in the final two innings, which gave Valley Center a 4-3 lead just three outs away from a long-awaited state tournament appearance.
Third baseman Carsen Pracht slipped as he tried to field a bunt, and that put runners at first and second. After that inning with the lead flipped, Pracht ran into the dugout and rifled his glove at the dugout wall.
A few minutes later, Pracht was at the plate and put down a flawless bunt down the first-base line that set Lara up to bring Cale Blasi and Trey Kobler home.
Carroll has been put in those come-from-behind situations a lot this season, much more than last year's team that finished its regional tournament 21-1. Sometimes this year's group hasn't come through, but coach Charlie Ebright said those experiences have helped for this postseason push.
"(Credit) to our guys for not believing we could fail," he said. "Get 'em on, get 'em over, get 'em in. We've executed all year like that and gotten better every game."
Carroll is 19-3 after its regional title. Its losses have come against Heights, Kapaun and West. The Eagles didn't win the City League for the first time since the 2011-12 school year and don't seem to have that ace pitcher or go-to bat like years past.
But it does have grit, and despite its shortcomings this season, Carroll will still be no worse than the No. 3 seed in the 5A tournament starting May 24 at Eck Stadium.
"We did fight a lot this year, more than in the past, but I think that has only made us stronger," Lara said. "I wouldn't say it's a building year, but it's a learning year, and we've been learning a lot about ourselves this whole season.
"It's just that winner's mentality. We know we can get the job done. We know we have it within ourselves."