Retooled Lancers ready for state challenges

Despite losing most of its starters to graduation, Crest High's baseball program scarcely missed a beat by qualifying this year for the Class 2-1A State Tournament for the third time in four years. Crest opens tourney play against defending champion St. Mary's Colgan at 5:45 p.m. Thursday.

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May 21, 2024 - 2:19 PM

Crest High's Ryan Golden, right, has become a team leader for the Lancers, who have advanced to this year's Class 2-1A State Baseball Tournament despite having a nearly all-new starting lineup and pitching staff this season. Photo by Richard Luken / Iola Register

COLONY — When Crest High was on its way to a fourth-place finish at the 2022 State Tournament, the Lancers had to open with a showdown against perhaps the pre-eminent baseball program in Kansas.

The Lancers won a 5-3 thriller over Pittsburg’s St. Mary’s Colgan Panthers to advance to the state semifinals.

Crest head coach Roland Weir noted then that the sophomore-laden Colgan squad was likely to be heard from again. He was correct.

Last year, Colgan entered the state tournament as the eighth seed, and proceeded to outscore its opponents by a combined 35-8 to win the 21st state title in program history. Crest, meanwhile, lost out on a potential rematch after the Lancers bowed out in their regional championship game.

While a largely retooled Crest squad is back at the state tournament, which opens Thursday in Great Bend, standing in their way is Colgan.

What’s more, the Pittsburg team features a starting lineup of many of the same players who suited up against Crest the first time around.

“They’re the same group of kids, just a couple years older,” Weir noted.

As an aside, Crest’s loss in tegionals last spring prevented the squads from a rematch, Weir noted, because state tournament pairings are determined by each team’s record.

But the long-awaited rematch will take place, just one year later than originally expected.

First pitch for Thursday’s state quarterfinal matchup is scheduled for about 5:45 p.m. at the Great Bend Sports Complex.

Unlike Colgan, Crest’s starting lineup will be much different this time around after losing seven of its nine starters from 2023 to graduation.

But with holdovers like Rogan Weir and Ryan Golden, Crest turned to its next generation of starters and took some early lumps with a tough non-conference schedule against teams like Iola, Southern Lyon County, Anderson County and Kansas City Christian — all of which finished the year with winning records.

By the time the Lancers opened the Three Rivers League portion of their schedule, Crest was humming along in fine fashion.

The Lancers (20-7) went unbeaten through league play, and rode that momentum into the regional tournament.

Crest was a bit sloppy but still cruised to a 9-1 win over Northern Heights to open the postseason. It then overcame a seven-run second inning to knock off Pleasanton, 18-8, and then rode the pitching of Drake Weir and Ryan Golden to a 10-3 win over Southern Lyon County to punch its third state tournament trip in four seasons.

“Colgan is always gonna be a solid team. It’s well-coached,” Weir said. “They’re gonna be a hard knockout. But I like our chances.”

Crest High’s Jensen Barker, left, and Jerry Rodriguez have become team leaders this year in their first full season as starters.Photo by Richard Luken

CREST’S challenging non-conference schedule allowed Weir to tinker a bit with his lineup, “but I had a pretty good idea of what our kids could do,” he said. “We challenged the kids. We took some losses, but we were competitive in all of them, and that really helped us.”

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