By BRETT MARSHALL
When the Sublette Larks baseball team missed the Class 2A state tournament in 2012, head coach Ryan Hafen knew that his 2013 team would have a learning curve when the spring season got under way.
Little did he realize it would be a big, big curve.
The Larks began the season by winning just four of their first 11 games before turning things around, winning nine of their final 10 games, including the regional tournament in Elkhart.
That has earned them a trip to the Emporia 2A state, which begins at 6:30 p.m. Thursday for Hafen's squad when they take on the No. 3-seeded Olathe-Heritage Christian Academy (13-3). The Larks, the No. 6 seed, own a 13-8 mark.
"No question after last year we knew that this year would be a process," Hafen said. "The last 10 games we started playing good ball, and that's really all that matters. This is the time of year you want to be playing your best."
Two years ago, the Larks went to the state and made an exit after the first round. Hafen is hoping for better things this time around.
"We're a little bit more balanced overall," Hafen said. "Then, we relied on just a few players, but now we've got more players doing more things, and I think that's why I feel better about going to state this time."
Hafen has tapped junior pitcher Trevor Leverett to start in the opening game on Thursday. Leverett, who catches when not on the mound, has a 4-2 record and posted an impressive 2.48 earned run average. In 31 innings, he has notched 50 strikeouts while walking just 15. He also has a good bat, hitting .386 with 19 runs-batted-in.
"Early on, he struggled a bit, but he's really improved a lot this last half of the season," Hafen said of Leverett.
Hafen can also go to senior Avigel Gonzalez, who has a 4-2 won-loss mark, but a 5.37 ERA. In 28 2/3 innings, he has 34 strikeouts and 19 walks. Gonzalez bats third now after being in the leadoff spot at the start of the season. He is hitting .390 with 16 RBIs. Of his 21 hits this season, 10 of them have been for extra bases, including three home runs, four triples and three doubles. Sophomore Andrew Lower, who now is in the leadoff spot, has a team-high .419 batting average with 15 RBIs and also has scored 32 runs. Senior cleanup hitter Laramie Lumley is hitting .365 with a team-high 25 RBIs.
"We talked about the season before it started and how we just wanted to get better every day and see improvement," Hafen said. "Now that we're here, we want to go and play our best baseball."
A win on Thursday would put the Larks into Friday's semifinal against the winner of Sedan (19-3) vs. Inman (12-9), who play the 4 p.m. game. In the upper half of the bracket, it will be top-seeded St. Paul (14-2) meeting Medicine Lodge (9-10) at 11 a.m. and Valley Falls (16-5) taking on Ell Saline (14-5) at 1:30 p.m. All games are played at Emporia-Sodens Grove.