By CONOR NICHOLL
Central Heights baseball with nice turnaround; Peel among state leaders
Two Christmases ago, Richmond-Central Heights baseball coach Jason Brown started searching online for positive mindset ideas. Brown, currently in his 22nd season with Central Heights baseball, returned seven starters from 2021.
Central Heights had opened 17-0 in 2013. Then, the Vikings had steadily improved from three to five to eight to back-to-back 10 win seasons.
After a four-win showing in ’19 and the COVID cancellation of 2020, Central Heights went 9-12 in 2021. Last year, CH improved to 11-8.
However, the Vikings went 2-4 in games decided by three runs or fewer. That included two one-run losses to Lebo.
Brown has continually instilled the positive mindset, which has paid off this spring behind a highly experienced group. Brown follows Mano Watsa, the well-known leader for PGC basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world.
Watsa has a daily email that is read by many Kansas coaches. Plus, Central Heights has focused more on life after baseball with community activities, such as a benefit auction and reading to elementary school kids.
“Instead of getting down on yourself negative, ‘Hey, next play,’ that’s our motto,” Brown said. “We just say ‘next play.’ Don’t let it get to you.”
Central Heights should finish with its best record in at least nine seasons. Including the designated hitter, CH returned 10 players who started at some point last spring. The Vikings opened 8-0 and currently stand at 9-3.
“The boys are just playing together and they are having fun,” Brown said. “They are not putting so much pressure on themselves.”
That includes 11-4 and 6-5 victories against Lebo and a sweep against defending 2-1A champion Mission Valley. Overall, CH is 4-0 in games decided by three runs or fewer.
Lebo is 10-2 when not playing Central Heights.
“We have went ahead and buckled down and been focused,” Brown said. “To last year, we let some of those games get away from us. We have done a better job of focusing in some tight situations.”
Central Heights is one of several programs that has experienced great success in baseball and softball this spring. CH softball, a returning state qualifier, is 12-0 and paces its own regional. CH baseball is in the Kansas City Christian regional that currently has six teams above .500. Colony-Crest (8-0) was a final four team last spring and headlines the regional.
Six-foot-6 junior Ethan Rowan is a three-year starter at catcher. Seniors Max Cannady and Conner Peel are the top pitchers. Junior Caden Newell starts at first base. Senior Luke Burkdoll is at second base. Peel plays shortstop with Nick Schultze at third base.
The outfield has junior Carter Kimball, junior Laiken Brockus and senior Ely Burroughs. Junior Colton Caswell is the designated hitter. Caswell came back from an 0-2 count to deliver a walk-off base hit in a recent game.
Burkdoll, an experienced player outside of high school baseball, carries a .500 average, including three doubles, two triples and two homers. The right-handed Peel is among the early candidates for 2-1A player of the year with a .472 average, 23 runs, three doubles, three triples and three homers. He leads in plate appearances, runs, triples and homers. In 13.2 innings, Peel has 21 strikeouts.
In his career, Peel has a .394 average, six homers, 40 RBI and 58 runs scored.
His three homers are tied for the Kansas lead among KSHSAA players, per MaxPreps. Other notable names with three homers include McPherson’s Hunter Alvord, the defending 4A player of the year; Oxford’s Jonathan Elliott, and Nemaha Central’s Brayden Uphaus.
Peel is ninth in Kansas with a .972 slugging percentage.
“Very athletic,” Brown said about Peel. “That’s one thing that helps him a lot, and I had the Lebo coach come up to me the other day and say, ‘Gosh, he’s just so smooth with everything he does.’ So he’s very athletic. He’s very smooth, and he’s a great kid.”
Cannady has struck out 32 against 11 walks in 17 innings. A left-hander, Cannady has good off speed and can hit his spots.
“I love a good lefty in high school baseball,” Brown said.
Girard, Maize South end state’s longest softball winning streaks
Entering the week, 5A’s Valley Center and 3A’s Frontenac, the defending state champions in its respective classifications, had Kansas’ longest current softball winning streaks. Both took splits. On Monday, Frontenac split with CNC rival Girard with a 4-1 loss and 5-1 win. Frontenac softball is 7-1.
On Tuesday, VC split a wild home doubleheader against Maize South. VC stands at 11-1.
Maize South has emerged as one of Kansas’ top surprises. The Mavericks were 10-11 last season and have first-year coach Cody Stucky. The Mavericks are 9-3 with a very manageable next six games. On March 31, Maize South defeated Andover, 12-11, in extra innings.
Against Valley Center, Maize South lost Game 1, 11-10. VC scored four runs in the bottom of the seventh to win its 31st straight contest.
The Mavericks’ key returning players are: Macy Bruggeman, MaKenna Majors, Maci Kratzer, Isabelle Brainard, Jenna Sokoll, Lizzy Lassley, Camren Moses and Sophie Stockam.
In Game 2, Maize South came back with three runs in the seventh to win, 9-7.
In the top of seventh, Maize South trailed by two and the first batter grounded out. Then, Lassley singled off the third baseman’s glove. Kratzer followed with a single to deep short, per SIK reviewal of the game broadcast from Valley Center’s video feed.
Sokoll followed with a hard chopper off the middle. The play is normally a single, but the shortstop lunged behind second base and the ball ticked off her glove and caromed sideways past the center fielder. The ball went all the way to the wall and two runs scored. Sokoll ended up with a triple. Then, Stockam lined a single up the middle.
Sokoll ended also delivered a walk-off homer against Andover in March. Against Andover, Sokoll finished 4 of 7 with four RBIs, two walks, two doubles and the homer. She tossed 6.1 innings and allowed four runs.
In Maize South’s latest statistical release, Lassley carries a .571 average with seven steals. Stucky is hitting .545, and Majors is at .526 after a .345 average last season.
Stucky had previously coached Wichita Northwest softball.
All the defending state softball champions have now lost this season. Frontenac remains the heavy 3A state favorite, while VC likely retains the 5A state edge over Basehor-Linwood and Bishop Carroll.
Last undefeated softball teams:
6A Derby (12-0) – will face Maize South on May 5
5A: KC Piper (10-0), Bishop Carroll (10-0)
4A: Wamego (10-0) – Red Raider sophomore Peyton Hardenburger, the reigning 4A pitcher of the year, continues her incredible season. She has a .657 average with a .684 on-base percentage. Division I signees Maya Gallagher and Ashten Pierson have combined for seven homers. In 32 innings, Hardenburger has struck out 85 of 105 batters.
3A: Haven (10-0) and Cheney (8-0) – both in the Cheney regional; Silver Lake (10-0) – SL has five straight shutouts and seven this season. The Eagles have allowed five total runs. SL is 6-0 against Perry-Lecompton, Basehor-Linwood and Rossville; those three teams are a combined 25-3 when not playing the Eagles.
2-1A: St. Marys (6-0), Oxford (12-0), Central Heights (12-0), Arma-Northeast (12-0); McLouth (12-0) and Troy (12-0) – both in Riverside regional
Holcomb softball with impressive victories
In the last three weeks, Holcomb, paced by three-year ace Korryn Johnson, is 5-1. The Longhorns swept Thomas More Prep-Marian on the road on March 30. On April 11, Holcomb split with Cimarron. Last Thursday, Holcomb swept Scott City, 3-2 and 6-1. Holcomb is 7-1.
When those teams don’t face Holcomb, they are a combined 20-4.
Two years ago, Holcomb lost twice to Scott City in the regular season, though beat the rival Beavers in sub-state and finished 20-4. Last season, Holcomb was 20-3 with all three losses to the Beavers.
Scott City returns their elite pitcher in Cheyenne Cramer. She is 2-1 with a 1.02 ERA with 48 strikeouts in 27.1 innings.
Johnson has two official offers: Johnson County Community College and NOC-Enid. She has plenty of looks from the junior college and NAIA routes. Johnson leads with a .560 average and is part of a deep group of three-year standouts for the Longhorns.
Junior Emma Cornelsen has a .481 average with five extra hits. Junior Rian Rodriguez has a .423 average with six doubles and two homers. Rodriguez has 14 career homers. Johnson has a 7-1 record with a 0.86 earned-run average in 49 innings. She has 80 strikeouts against seven walks. She has pitched all of Holcomb’s innings this season.
Purvis with big start for Bishop Carroll baseball
Bishop Carroll freshman first baseman Cal Purvis leads the Golden Eagles in multiple categories, including batting average (.471), on-base percentage (.635) and slugging percentage (.823). BC is 11-1. Purvis is 6-foot-2, 220 pounds. His older brother, Ben, plays for Navy football. The middle brother, Hank, is a Division I-caliber lineman who has recently picked up multiple D1 offers.
Longtime BC coach Charlie Ebright has BC atop 5A West. Hays High (7-1) is second in winning percentage after it won the Western Athletic Conference title. Puris is currently sixth in Kansas with a 1.000 slugging percentage.
Top Baseball Records:
6A East: Olathe South (9-1), Blue Valley West (10-2)
6A West: Manhattan (9-0), Lawrence Free State (11-1)
5A East: De Soto (10-1), Topeka Seaman (10-2), St. Thomas Aquinas (9-2), two-time defending champion Blue Valley Southwest (7-3)
5A West: Bishop Carroll (11-1), Hays High (7-1)
4A East: Rock Creek (10-0), Clay Center (12-0), Lyons (6-2), defending champion McPherson (7-3)
3A: Wichita Trinity (12-0), Humboldt (12-0), Frontenac (7-0); Goodland regional – Russell (10-0), Holcomb (8-0), Santa Fe Trail (10-0)
2-1A: Little River (10-0), Inman (10-0), Colony-Crest (8-0), Elkhart (10-0)
Great Bend has three players hitting over .500. They also helped GB to a sizable jump in basketball this winter: senior Tyler Stuhlsatz, sophomore Carson Umphres and freshman Ian Premer. GB has posted a 6-4 record.
Atchison County pitcher Bricen Lee threw a complete game no-hitter in a 3-1 win against Jefferson County North. AC is 4-6.
Silver Lake’s Brody Renfro carries a .415 average with three doubles, two triples and nine RBI.
Wichita Collegiate senior Brady Hunt has committed to Cloud County CC. He carries a .667 average with nine doubles, two homers and 21 RBI. The defending 3A champion is 10-2. Hunt has the second-highest average in Kansas, per MaxPreps.
Overall eight qualifying hitters carry at least a .600 average: Scott City’s Brady Welker (.700), Hunt, Inman’s Brant Mikulecky (.667), Scott City’s JP Harris (.667), Smoky Valley’s Ty Heitschmidt (.647), Santa Fe Trail’s Kyle Strother (.629), Onaga’s Colby Simkins (.606) and Smoky Valley’s Trevor Jones (.600).
Goddard-Eisenhower’s Tyner Horn has committed to Wichita State. A leading contender for 5A Pitcher of the Year last season, Horn worked a no-hitter last Friday against Derby. He hit 96 miles per hour. Horn has pitched 18 innings with 26 strikeouts and no runs allowed. Eisenhower is 8-2.
In his last two seasons, Horn is 5-1 with a 0.36 ERA in 58.2 innings.
Four pitchers have not allowed an earned run and worked at least 12 innings: Horn, Colony-Crest’s Trevor Church, McPherson’s Jaret Myers and Santa Fe Trail’s Chad Robert.
Mill Valley senior Max Weber has 40 strikeouts in 22 innings with a 1.14 ERA in four starts. MV stands at 3-7.