Winning a Kansas Class 6A state baseball title doesn’t just mean a banner on the wall for Campus High School junior Austin Warkins.
“It earns some respect for our school,” Warkins said on Friday, just moments after Campus defeated Lawrence Free State 3-2 in extra innings to take home the 6A state baseball trophy at KU’s Hoglund Ballpark.
“Other schools are always putting us down, and we’re right back up to where we should be, right back on top where we want to be,” said Warkins, who produced the game-winning hit that sent teammate Rylan Walter over home plate in the ninth inning.
Defeating Mill Valley 3-1 earlier in the day in the semifinals, the No 1-seeded Colts got off to a hot start against Free State. They took a 2-0 lead with a run in each of the first two innings.
But Free State starting pitcher David Stuart tightened up his control following the rough start. Stuart ended up throwing 108 pitches over 6 2/3 innings of work. He allowed just the two early runs, gave up seven hits and struck out five.
Free State eventually tied the game in the top of the fifth inning in what could have been the most important hit of senior Jake Baker’s high school career. Without a hit over the course of the state tournament, Baker batted in two runners on a single to center field, then followed that by stealing second base.
But Campus recovered from the blow.
The Firebirds held all the momentum, allowing just two hits over the next three innings.
“To be honest with you, I wasn’t nervous, I knew it was just a matter of time because I believe in the kids, and I knew it was going to come through,” said Campus head coach Bryan Clasen.
It took until the bottom of the ninth (the second extra inning) for Campus to finally get back in its rhythm and put the game to bed. A single from Walter, followed by a sacrifice bunt by pinch hitter Tayton Rico and an intentional walk to Tanner Leslie gave Warkins the opportunity.
“It was destined to happen, we were destined to win this. It was ours to take,” Warkins said, who was stepping to the plate off the back of three innings of relief in which he allowed three hits and struck out two.
On the third pitch of the at-bat, Warkins sent the ball far into right field, before wheeling around the bases with his arms raised and a state championship claimed.
“As I hit the ball, I seen him step in and then I saw the ball just fly over him and right there I knew that game was over and I knew we were going to win it,” Warkins said, who finished 3 for 5 at the plate.
The Colts also saw strong performances from starting pitcher Tyler Waits, who allowed five hits through six innings, as well as a two-hit performances from Walter, junior Jackson Hartley and senior Tyler Kahmann.
Lawrence Free State also had seniors Peyton Sparks and Cole Burenheide produce multi-hit games.
The Colts finished the season 23-2, while Free State finished 21-3.
And with Warkins having one year left at Campus, what’s next?
“You can expect another banner up on the wall next year,” he said.