By BRETT MARSHALL
Veteran Lakin High School baseball coach Steve Davidson has been around the sport long enough to know that you file away both thrilling victories and agonizing defeats.
Yet, in all his years of coaching, rarely had he experienced the heartbreak that his Broncs team did when they lost in the 2010 Class 3A regional finals to TMP-Marian.
Having no-hit the Monarchs through five innings, the Broncs gave up a three-run home run in the top of the sixth and eventually lost 4-3 in the championship game to miss a berth into the state tournament.
Fast forward to the 2011 season and the Broncs are making the opposition pay for that loss as they have stormed through the regular season with an 18-1 record, a Hi-Plains League championship to their credit and a No. 1 seed at the 3A regional which begins for them on Wednesday.
"We're definitely a young team," Davidson said of his roster that is comprised of 10 juniors, six sophomores, one freshman and just two seniors. "But this is a group that has been playing together since they were eight or nine years old. They've played a lot of baseball. They do a lot of things together outside of baseball, and they come to practice and work hard every day."
The Broncs drew a first-round bye and will await the winner of today's Goodland-Larned game. They will play the first semifinal at 2 p.m. Wednesday at TMP's field in Hays. TMP (14-4) drew the No. 2 seed and also has an opening bye. The Monarchs get the winner of today's Scott City-Holcomb 4:30 p.m. contest The championship game is scheduled for 7 p.m. with the winner moving on to the state tournament on May 27-28 at KSU-Tointon Family Stadium in Manhattan.
While Davidson and his team has steamrolled through their 2011 season with the lone setback coming to Scott City back in early April, the memory of the TMP loss has not been put away.
"It was a tough defeat, for sure," Davidson said. "We talked about it at the beginning of the season. I'm sure the kids remember. We talk about the importance of one play, one pitch, making the difference between winning and losing. So we go out every day and do things at game speed. I don't think we as coaches or the players take anything for granted. We know what can happen with just one play."
Davidson knows success of many teams is based upon its defense up the middle of the field — catching, second base-shortstop and center field. He's got quality at all four positions.
Juniors Bryant Miller (center field), Chandon Moreno (shortstop) and Logan Litton (catcher), and senior Gilbert Magallanes (second base) make up that group that has been instrumental in the team's success.
Miller leads a potent offensive attack that has averaged 14.2 runs per game (and a team batting average of .421) by hitting for an unheard-of .593 average with a slugging percentage of 1.017. He's got a team-high 11 doubles and shares the lead in both triples (4) and home runs (2) with multiple teammates.
"He's just a very good athlete," Davidson said. "He's got great hand-eye coordination and he hits the ball hard."
Moreno is not far behind his junior teammate as he is hitting at a .551 clip with nine doubles, two triples and two home runs. He has a team-high 11 stolen bases and has only been caught once.
"Baseball's his main sport and he loves the game," Davidson said. "You've got to have a good shortstop and a lot of times you'll see your best athlete there. He's done an exceptional job for us and provides us with stability and leadership."
Magallenes is the veteran for the Broncs and he has been nothing short of spectacular at second base. His fielding percentage of .933 is among the tops on the team and has has committed just one fielding error in 70 chances.
"He loves the sport and it's the only sport he plays," Davidson said. "He's just there every play, every inning, every game. You know you can depend on him to come up with the every day play and also the exceptional play."
Litton is in his first year of starting at the varsity level for the Broncs and his performance behind the plate has provided that final piece of their defense. Litton has thrown out nine baserunners and limited the opponents to a stolen base percentage of just .769 while the Broncs average .910 in their stolen bases.
"It's his first year at the varsity and he's done a good job," Davidson said. "He's been able to work with our pitchers and just has been a solid performer back there."
And while Davidson has enjoyed the prodigious hitting of the Broncs' offense, he is also happy with the team's pitching performance.
The ringleader on the mound for the Broncs has been junior right-hander Ryan Swank, who has a glittering 8-0 record, a 3.17 earned-run-average and team highs in strikeouts (62), innings pitched (42) and has seven complete games and one shutout to his credit. He is averaging 10.33 strikeouts per game but equally impressive is his 2.17 walks per game average.
The team's No. 2 pitcher, Jordan Rosales, has been hurt for much of the season but has returned to the lineup for the postseason run. He and the remainder of the pitching corps have combined to go 11-1. The team ERA is 3.79 and the group averages just over eight strikeouts per game and yields only a shade over three walks.
Overall, Davidson has been happy with his team's effort as well as their approach to the season.
"We've played pretty solid defense, our hitting has been very good and the pitching has been consistent," Davidson said. "We just look forward to the next game and hope to go as far as we can. We know how quickly it can end. We know what the reward is when you win."
For baseball/softball pairings and matchups, see Scoreboard on Page B2.
Lakin Broncs Baseball At-a-Glance
Season Record: Won 18, Lost 1. Game-by-game: Ulysses (11-5, 9-4); Scott City (14-9, 9-10); Satanta (21-0, 15-0); Elkhart (16-2, 24-9); Wichita County (15-0, 11-1); Sublette (20-2, 18-3); Hugoton (8-2, 13-1); Syracuse (6-2, 19-18); Holcomb (15-2, 13-1); Wichita Independent (9-2).
Team Batting Average: .421. Team Slugging Percentage: .656. Doubles--59, Triples--19, Home runs--11. On-base percentage: .526. Runs-per-game: 14.2.
Offensive leaders: Hits (Moreno 38), Singles (Moreno 25), Doubles (Miller 11), Triples (Miller, Kinnier 4 each), Home runs (Miller, Dasenbrock, Moreno, Sauer, 2 each), RBIs (Miller 41), Stolen bases (Moreno 11).
Team pitching: Wins (Swank 8-0), Strikeouts (Swank 62), ERA (Litton, 1.75 with 3-0 record).