Rewind to last spring.
The Great Bend High School baseball team advanced to the Class 5A state tournament, where the Panthers lost to eventual state champion Topeka-Seaman 6-5 in the opening round.
Today, the Panthers (16-4) are in quest of advancing to the state tournament for the second straight year. They are the host for regional play at Al Burns Memorial Field and will play Topeka West (5-15) in the opener at 2 p.m.
No. 3 seed Salina Central (12-8) takes on sixth-seeded McPherson (6-14) in the 4 o’clock. The two winners meet at 6 in the championship for the right to advance to the state tournament on May 27-28 at Eck Stadium on the Wichita State University campus.
“It was nice to get our team to state last year and our kids kind of know what it takes to get there and know what it takes to get it done,” Great Bend head coach Randy Beck said of his team, which includes the nucleus of last year’s state tourney team. “We just want to take it one game at a time and we definitely don’t want to be overlooking anybody.
“If we just came out and play our best ball, we’re good.”
The Panthers have many capable fresh arms. The rotation likely will include right-handers Nick Ney, Mitch Kottas, Darien Blackwill and Matt Marshall, along with left-handers Connor Sell and Stefan Bennett.
“We have everybody ready to go,” Beck said. “Hopefully, we won’t need more than three or four guys to get it done, but we’ll use whoever we need to use to win a game.
“From now own, it’s win or go home.”
Beck said it would be unwise to take a team like Topeka West lightly.
“Their schedule is tough and they play a lot of good teams,” Beck said. “Once you get into the postseason, anything can happen and the records are kind of thrown out the door at this point.
“You’ve just got to play your best ball, if you want to move on.”
The Panthers have rode some steady hitting throughout the season in improving on last year’s 10-13 record, which included a third-place finish in the Western Athletic Conference.
This season, the Panthers posted a 6-2 WAC record to tie defending champion Dodge City for second place. Hays (8-0) won the conference crown.
Great Bend has a team batting average of .443, led by Marshall (.542), Blackwill (.517), Logan Buehler (.492) and Landon Leuenberger(.492) .
Blackwill leads the Panthers with 32 runs batted in.