A little more than 10 months ago, Bishop Carroll walked off Tyler Field in Eck Stadium with a sour taste in its mouth.
The Golden Eagles had just missed their shot at a Kansas Class 5A high school baseball state championship, losing to Topeka Seaman 7-2 in the tile game. They returned for the first time Thursday and beat rival Kapaun 14-2.
“In the pregame huddle, I said, ‘You guys know why we’re here, right?,’ ” coach Charlie Ebright said. “We wanted to get those butterflies on this field out now, and so when we come back, we’re ready to go.”
Bishop Carroll lost 10 seniors from last year’s roster, including All-Metro middle infielder A.J. Peters, but the Eagles bring back a wealth of experience in eight returning starters. Coming off a 21-4 season that included a regional title and runner-up finish, Carroll is going for it in 2019.
Ebright said playing high-profile games in high-profile locations are part of the process toward getting back to Eck Stadium.
“No matter what, you have jitters before the game when you’re playing at a stadium like this,” senior outfielder Reece Flax said. “So it was a really good opportunity to get out there and play in this atmosphere, especially against someone like Kapaun.
“This is our last shot at getting it done, so it makes you want it that much more.”
Carroll’s strength will be on the mound this season. Returning four major contributors, the Golden Eagles are already off to a 6-0 start and haven’t given up more than three runs. Thursday night, it was sophomore Jorey Faber and senior Carsen Pracht.
They combined for just 85 pitches in five innings in the Holy War victory. And the scariest part for the rest of the Wichita area and Kansas: Carroll’s ace hasn’t even taken the mound this season.
One of last year’s All-Metro selections, Brady Bockover posted a 0.59 ERA last season with a 5-1 record in 35 1/3 innings. Bockover will return in a couple of weeks from a rib injury he suffered at this year’s state wrestling tournament.
Ebright said with Bockover out, some of his younger, less experienced arms are getting a go before they will be needed come postseason.
“Jorey started the state semifinal last year and didn’t make it through,” Ebright said. “He wanted to get back out here. He gave up a two-spot but then came back and put up a zero, so that’s huge for him.”
The Golden Eagles’ defense will be their calling card in 2019, but the bats will have to come through, too. Carroll must replace its most clutch performer, RJ Lara, who came through with a walk-off hit over Valley Center in the Eagles’ regional championship.
Ebright said that will come down to the seniors. Carroll enters 2019 with 13 seniors on the varsity roster. Experienced players like Pracht, shortstop Jesse Peoples, and outfielders Mason Baalman, Cale Blasi and Flax will be the leaders on and off the diamond.
“I challenged Reece Flax last year,” Ebright said. “I said, ‘I need you to step up and be my three-hole guy,’ and he said, ‘Coach, I will.’ And so far, he has been tearing it up.”
Flax said the seniors are up for the challenge. They remember how last year’s ending felt and were eager to make a statement back where it happened.
Pracht has been part of plenty of state championship runs, including Carroll’s first boys basketball title in school history. He said he and the Eagles are ready for another.
“The biggest thing is chemistry,” Pracht said. “We have each other’s back and know that if one of us messes up, we’re there to pick each other up. This team has probably the best chemistry that I’ve been on. Last year’s basketball was good, but this team - I’ve known these guys a long, long time.”