Lancers survive scare from Junction City, will make push for first state baseball title since 1995

Zeb Vermillion (front center) pitched a complete game with seven strikeouts. "I was nervous the whole game, but the team pulled through," Vermillion said. "It felt amazing to be a part of this team and win the first game, but it's not over yet." Photo by James Wooldridge.
Zeb Vermillion (front center) pitched a complete game with seven strikeouts. “I was nervous the whole game, but the team pulled through,” Vermillion said. “It felt amazing to be a part of this team and win the first game, but it’s not over yet.” Photo by James Wooldridge.

It didn’t come easily, but SM East’s top-seeded baseball team did what it took to defeat the eighth-seeded Junction City/St. Xavier High Schools squad in the 6A tournament opening round Thursday, advancing to the semi-finals today.

Pitcher Zeb Vermillion piloted the Lancers through a trying effort, pitching a complete seven-inning game with seven strikeouts. Vermillion gave up just four hits and two earned runs. But Junction City made the most of its opportunities, capitalizing on errors and plating two in the third inning and another two in the sixth to tie the game at four.

The Lancers bounced back with a run of their own in the bottom of the sixth, though, and held on for a 5-4 victory. Coach Jarrod Ryherd said the experience of this year’s seniors from last year’s tournament helped them weather the challenge.

“For the seniors, they were nice and relaxed, they’ve been here before,” he said. “Some of the younger guys were a little nervous, so it was good to get the win and get everyone settled in.”

The Lancers offensive efforts were helped by Max Sanborn and Sam Williams, who both had doubles. Luke Anderson led the team with two RBI.

The win advances SM East to the semi-final round they were denied in last year’s state tournament. They’re set to face district rival SM Northwest at 10 a.m. today at Hoglund Park in Lawrence. The Cougars, 17-5 on the year, accounted for two of the Lancers’ four losses on the season, beating SM East both times the teams faced.

“I know our kids are excited to play them,” Ryherd said. “They want to get out there against them again.”

The weather forecast calls for just a 30 percent chance of showers at 10 a.m., but rain is likely between noon and 3 p.m.

The winner of the SM East-SM Northwest game will advance to play the winner of Lawrence Free State and Olathe East in the 6A title game later this afternoon or evening, weather permitting.

Sophomore Luke Anderson holds a Junction City runner to a short lead on second base. Photo by James Wooldridge.
Sophomore Luke Anderson holds a Junction City runner to a short lead on second base. Photo by James Wooldridge.