In the final game of what turned out to be an outstanding season, Maize’s Aidan Perez played like a state champion but couldn’t get a win.
Maize lost to Wichita Heights 1-0 in 12 innings in the quarterfinal round of the Class 5A state baseball tournament. Perez threw 89 pitches; more than 66 percent of them were strikes. He threw nine, three-hit, scoreless innings.
Before the 2018 season started, Maize coach Rocky Helm admitted there wasn’t a lot of experience on the roster. The Eagles had graduated 14 seniors and fielded 10 underclassmen.
Now with a year of experience and 10 seniors headlining the lineup, signs point to an even better finish in 2019.
“That was so important for us last year,” Perez said. “We needed to go through that growing phase, trying to find that chemistry to be able to play together as a team.”
As was the case most of last season, pitching and defense won’t be an issue for the Eagles in a one-game decision. But if the bats get hot, they have a shot against any team in Kansas, Helm said.
Friday was evidence. In the first game of a doubleheader against AVCTL I rival and Class 6A state title contender Derby, the Eagles defended a 2-1 lead at home against Derby’s All-Metro pitcher Grant Adler.
In the top of the seventh, the Panthers loaded the bases on Perez with two outs. After a mound visit, Perez got Derby sophomore Luke Stewart to ground out to senior shortstop Jordon Helm in a bang-bang play at first.
But a couple of hours later, Derby earned a series split with a 12-5 road win.
Coach Helm said having Perez to hold it down on the mound, even when it looks shaky, is such a luxury.
“I love our pen, and I wouldn’t be afraid to throw them,” Helm said. “But he’s experience, and he’s been in that spot before. I want to see him win it or not.”
Although Maize looks to have a solid senior-laced roster in 2019 that can compete for a title, the season didn’t start strong.
Valley Center, who made it to a Class 5A regional championship and was a run away from getting to state, lost almost its entire core from last season. And with Maize entering with a wealth of seniors and confidence from 2018, the Eagles entered too high on themselves, Jordon Helm said.
They won the first game of a doubleheader 18-12 and lost the second 9-7. It was a performance they said they weren’t proud of but was one that will help them in the long run.
“I’m just going to be honest, at first we were just thinking that we were a bunch of seniors looking to roll in here,” Jordon Helm said. “But we had a talk the day after the series against the Valley. We now know every game matters. Every run counts.”