Senior Russell Wilkey

Senior Russell Wilkey swings during preseason batting practice at Rather Field on Wednesday.

The last time the Junction City High baseball team took the field, it was a thriller. One win away from going to state, the Blue Jays fell by one run in 12 innings to the eventual state champion Haysville-Campus Colts.

After a year-off thanks to COVID-19, six starters on that regional runner-up team have waited anxiously through two summers and one and two-thirds school years to get back on the field again.

“I’m excited,” senior first baseman Bodie Tillman said. “We haven’t even been able to play a game on the new turf we got in 2019 as Junction City High School. I’m just ready to get back out there.”

With a new turf also comes a new coach for Junction City. Well, perhaps he will only be new for fans but for a good number of Blue Jay upperclassmen, they go way back with new skipper Carl Laughlin.

“This is really my dream job,” Laughlin said. “Six of the kids that are playing right now, I was coaching them when they were eight years old. We traveled all over Kansas City and Missouri and even went to Oklahoma a couple of times to play ball. All of the seniors and a couple of the juniors played for me until they were 15 and they went to either Legion ball or another travel team.”

With Laughlin, confidence is key and the Blue Jays have good reason to be confident. Despite losing the 2020 season, this is a veteran Junction City team with talent all over the field and chemistry for days. They fully believe that a state title, which would be a first for Blue Jay baseball, is well within their grasp if they play to their potential.

“We’re going to know the game and we’re going to play the game right, Laughlin said. “We’re going to respect the game. I believe in the baseball gods so we’re gonna treat them right. We’re not going to be walking on the field. We’re going to be stretching singles into doubles. This is a really, really talented senior class and if they become good leaders, it’s gonna be hard to beat us.

“I just want to own the party. We know what we can do, let’s just go out there and own it. We’re not going to give up and we’re not going to whine. We’re going to walk in like we own the stadium and play like we own the stadium and good things will happen.”

But regardless of what happens on the scoreboard, what’s really making the players light up is just being back on the field with one another wearing a Blue Jay uniform.

“The thing that I’m most happy about is being able to be back playing this sport and being around the dudes I love, the dudes I grew up with,” senior pitcher and middle infielder Trevor Laughlin said. “Grinding every day and just trying to get better. Whenever I get out of school and come to baseball practice, whatever problems I had before just go away. It’s a clean slate. I’m happy.”

Junction City opens the season with a JV/varsity doubleheader versus Salina Central on March 25th.

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