Top 10 Teams
Few teams come into this season with experience and a winning pedigree; Maize has the most of both.
The Eagles trudged through what was considered more of a reloading year in 2018 and still reached the state tournament and went to 12 innings with Wichita Heights. 2019 is the year Maize could go for it with seven returning starters, including five seniors.
Adrian Perez will lead the rotation, and the senior trio of Jordon Helm, Carson Shively and Deriq Doty will be expected to lead at the plate.
Campus put four players onto the AVCTL I first team last year, and all four return in 2019.
The Colts served as the surprise of the state after a third-place finish in Class 6A. They beat Free State 10-6 in the state quarterfinals before falling to eventual champion Blue Valley 7-0.
Standouts like juniors Jackson Hartley and Tanner Leslie will need to contribute throughout the year, and the rest of the Colts will need to come through when it matters most to turn possibilities into reality.
The Panthers will field some of the best players in Kansas but have their share of holes to fill.
Brothers Jackson and Coleson Syring helped Derby at the plate to a third-place finish in Class 6A last year while junior right-handed pitcher Grant Adler held things down on the mound.
Derby will have to contend in what looks to be the toughest league in the Wichita area, seeking a fifth straight state tournament appearance.
4. Bishop Carroll
Bishop Carroll lost arguably its most clutch player and an All-Metro selection, but is almost fully back otherwise.
The Golden Eagles caught fire late last season and rode it to the Class 5A championship game before falling to Topeka Seaman. With what looks to be a weakened City League field, they will be a favorite to get back.
Senior right-handed pitcher Brady Bockover is a returning All-Metro selection. Senior designated hitter Reece Flax is a returning City League first team selection.
5. Maize South
The lasting image of Maize South from last season is the Mavericks walking off their home field while their crosstown rival celebrated a state tournament berth.
The Mavericks return a bevy of talent with some potholes in the lineup, including now-graduated second baseman Brody Hanna, an All-Metro selection last year, and third baseman Jack Wagner, now playing at Kansas.
Seniors Alex Epp and Hayden Bontrager will be among the Mavericks’ leaders in 2019.
6. Arkansas City
Ark City is the defending Class 4A-Division I champion, but most of the Bulldogs’ core has been lost.
The likes of Hutner O’Toole and Andrew Brautman are into college baseball, but rising seniors Garrett VanDeventer, Halen David and Brice Nittler will look to fill the void and keep Ark City not only at the top of the Wichita area, but all of Kansas rising to Class 5A.
7. Wichita Northwest
In Wichita Northwest’s final game of last season, the Grizzlies lost to the No. 1 seed in Class 6A by two runs.
Northwest returns a promising lineup in 2019 featuring juniors Tyler Gates — an All-State center fielder — and Walt Thompson, a pitcher with a 2.57 ERA last year.
8. Andover Central
It’s a new day for Andover Central baseball after a third-place finish in 4A-Division I last year.
Seniors like Cooper Elliot — the AVCTL II Player of the Year — Jackson Lewallen and Austin Zellers are gone. But coaches around Wichita said they believe the Jaguars will continue to be contenders in the area.
9. Wichita Heights
Heights in into a rebuild, but the Falcons still have one of the best players in Kansas.
Senior utility guy Jordan Ellison is back and will serve as the Falcons’ No. 1 option on the mound and at the plate. Heights lost seven seniors from last year’s 21-4 team that finished fourth in Class 5A.
After a 20-4 record and state qualification, Cheney is looking for more in 2019.
The Cardinals bring back a healthy group, including seniors Dawson Winter and Kauy Kuhn. With solid contributors like sophomores Logan Bartlett and Trent Canaan, Cheney will be among the top contenders in the Central Plains League and likely Class 3A.
Top 10 Players
1. Jordan Ellison - Wichita Heights, Sr., Utility
A quiet assassin on the mound and at bat, Ellison is one of the best players in the entire state.
Ellison is a returning All-Metro selection after posting a 0.65 ERA over 53.2 innings while hitting for a .444 average with 20 extra-base hits and five home runs.
Named the Class 5A Player of the Year in 2018, Ellison will look to somehow improve off just five strikeouts in 84 plate appearances.
2. Jackson Syring - Derby, Sr., Outfield
Syring raked in the accolades last season, named to the Eagle’s All-Metro team, All-State team and AVCTL I first team.
This season will bring new challenges for the Derby senior, but if he can improve off a .456 average with 31 hits and 10 going for extra bases, he should power the Panthers to their share of wins.
In the outfield, he is one of the best defensive players in the Wichita area, too. That will be key to building off a third-place finish last year in Class 6A.
3. Jackson Hartley - Campus, Jr., Utility
Hartley was one of the Wichita area’s most promising players last year. Now he will be expected to start taking over.
An All-Metro selection as a sophomore, Hartley hit for a .423 average and threw a 1.50 ERA to help Campus to a third-place finish in Class 6A. The Colts bring back one of the most loaded rosters in Kansas. He will be among the stars.
4. Brady Bockover - Bishop Carroll, Sr., Pitcher
Bockover’s ERA was laughable last year.
Throwing at 0.59, Bockover was nails on the mound for the Class 5A runner-up. He will need to return to the same form for the Golden Eagles to compete with the likes of Topeka Seaman and Blue Valley Southwest once again in 2019.
Recovering from a rib injury suffered during wrestling season, Bockover will be out about two weeks.
5. Grant Adler - Derby, Jr., Pitcher
When Derby needed him most, he showed up.
Adler — a returning All-Metro selection — threw a no-hitter in the Panthers’ regional championship game against Wichita West and helped Derby to a third-place finish in 6A. Throwing for a 2.24 ERA last year, Adler turned it on late.
If he can avoid the injury bug, which plagued him through the fall and winter, he will be among Kansas’ top arms.
6. Mateo Martinez - Campus, Sr., Catcher
On a loaded Campus lineup, Martinez offered a sense of consistency.
A Wichita State pledge and All-Metro selection last year, Martinez hit for a .429 average in 2018. But most important, he offered a level of experience few other Colts had.
7. Caleb Hitt - Andale/Garden Plain, Sr., Outfield
One of the only players to bat for an average over .500, Hitt lived up to his name last year on his way to the All-Metro team.
Hitt returns to the Indians’ lineup as the standout after totaling 29 hits with 10 going for extra bases. Andale/Garden Plain failed to reach state last year but will be looking to push through what was a brutal regional tournament.
8. Isaiah Cohens - Goddard, Sr., Pitcher
Goddard failed to reach the state tournament last year but brings back a few outstanding players.
Cohens was committed to Wichita State before flipping to Johnson County. A second team All-State selection last year, Cohens showed spurts of brilliance last year in a loaded AVCTL II.
9. Blake Mitchell - Goddard, Jr., Outfield
Mitchell is one of the most powerful players in the Wichita area.
At 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, he looks the part of a college player with the bat to back it up. A second team All-State selection last year, Mitchell has committed to Cowley College.
10. Adrian Perez - Maize, Sr., Pitcher
Perez might have had the best finish of any pitcher to not win a state championship in Kansas last year.
He threw nine scoreless innings in the Eagles’ 12-inning quarterfinal loss to Wichita Heights in the 5A tournament. He threw 89 pitches and over two-thirds were strikes. He will look to build off that performance.
Who in 6A?
The Wichita area looks to have two legitimate contenders in Class 6A, and they are rivals.
The 2018 season had a bit of anticlimactic ending after Derby and Campus reached the 6A semifinals, lost and were set to play in the third-place game, a game that was never played.
The two will meet at least twice in 2019 during league play, April 26 and May 1. Not only bragging rights but state title implications could be on the line.
Who is the surprise?
Arkansas City was good last year, but the way the Bulldogs cruised to the Class 4A-Division I title was surprising to say the least.
The Wichita area doesn’t seem to have a runaway favorite to bring home a state championship in 2019, but Maize, Campus, Derby and Bishop Carroll seem to be the most likely subjects.
That said, at least one team should be expected to surprise like Ark City last year. With talented players scattered across the diamond, Goddard, Buhler, Collegiate and Trinity Academy could be those candidates in 2019.
Can they repeat?
Arkansas City is coming off its first baseball state championship since 2002. Now the Bulldogs must rise to Class 5A.
The 4A-I field was solid. It featured teams like Bishop Miege, Andover Central and Paola. Now Ark City will play the likes of Blue Valley Southwest, Seaman and Shawnee Heights to go along with the contenders int he Wichita area.
With the conglomeration of state tournaments, some former 4A-I teams have handled it better than others. In boys basketball, two 4A-I teams reached the championship game after bumping to 5A. The Bulldogs will set out to do the same.