Nestled against the foothills of Lyons, endlessly in shadow during the early spring afternoons, the LHS baseball field over the years has been known to be a great atmosphere for a ballgame. And, a pretty good place to pick up a win if you're an opposing team, too.
But that all changed last season, as the 2017 Lions team produced a 19-4 record and challenged every Class 2A team it came across all the way to the state semifinals in Pueblo.
With just 28 total wins over the course of the prior four seasons, the Lions turned heads with a group of mostly juniors and sophomores. Well, a year later and there's no doubt Lyons will be on the radar state-wide as they compete in the Mile High League with an experienced bunch.
"Our team did really well and I think people may have underestimated us, but we are working hard to stay at the top," said senior captain Austen Clark, who pitches and plays third base. "We came up short of a state title and our goal this year is to finish it out with all the talent we have. We're all excited about that."
"Every team we're going to play is going to pitch their best pitchers and play their best players against us because we're the ones they're going to want to beat because of last year," classmate Joe McCain said. "That's definitely a challenge we look forward to."
The MHL has represented well in the state tournament the past two years, with Dawson School winning the 2016 state title before Lyons' deep run.
But is was as early as the third game of the season last year when Clark said he thought the team recognized they had the potential that eventually brought them down to the Runyon Complex in late May.
The Lions played a tough 3A Platte Valley team to a 10-7 loss that day, but whatever was said or done in the coming days led to 13 straight wins. They would beat Dawson in that stretch, ushering even more confidence, but they were still taking everything in stride.
It's been a year of precisely that — trying to take everything in stride and visualize what needs to be done for this group of kids to balance their physical skills with their mental preparedness.
"We have great depth, and that's what makes us strong," said Clark, who hit .418, won eight games on the hill and was not docked for any fielding errors in 65 chances. "We have the experience of what state is like, what winning is like, and we're pumped."
They have reason to be excited because of the group they bring back. In addition to Clark and McCain, both captains, Lyons returns six more seniors and five juniors. Only one full-time starter, Dawson Kelly, was a senior and graduated.
Pitching depth at the 2A level can make or break teams, particularly in the light of pitch count enforcement. For Lyons, Clark and Brandon Sanders figure to be the pair of go-to's with Justin Lear mixed in as a third starter during a tough stretch of games in a week or two. Those three pitchers combined to strike out 193 batters in roughly 122 innings last year.
It's been a few years since any LHS player hit with power, but they've got a wreck-'em one-through-nine lineup nevertheless. They'll swing big, but the .444 team on-base percentage from a year ago suggests they will take a lot of pitches and run opposing arms ragged.
Sanders, Drew Cross, David Brett, Keegan Bean — all of them feed off each other to produce.
"We are deep everywhere, really," McCain, who led the team with 27 RBI, said. "We did a lot to build team chemistry in the off-season. You have to spend a lot of time together at the school to be able to build on things.
"It felt good to get outside again. It's a new baseball season and everyone's excited. We're taking things serious because we know we have an even better chance than last year. We're just going to keep working hard."
The Lions have the disadvantage of being a public school in a league full of private institutions — which means any given team can add a transfer or two that will make an immediate impact and thus shake up the league entirely.
However, with a majority of their home games coming over the first half of the schedule, Lyons is hoping to set a tone in their own ballpark that may get other teams in the league on edge when facing them over the second half of the season. They start the season ranked No. 4 in the CHSAANow.com 2A poll.
Nope, Lyons is not just another picturesque field to travel to any more.