Devastated after wasting a five-run lead in the last inning of the first game of Thursday's doubleheader, Free State High delivered in the nightcap to salvage a Sunflower League baseball split with Olathe East at the Firebirds' field and secure its first victory of the season.
The Firebirds dropped the opener, 10-8 in eight innings, but regrouped with a 4-2 victory in the second game. FSHS led 8-3 going into the bottom of the seventh of the first game.
"That's about as demoralizing as a defeat can be," FSHS Mike Hill said of the opener. "You had a game under control going to the last inning, and then with one out everything falls apart. When you're young, inexperienced and trying to learn how to play the game like we are, you worry about the team psyche and mentality. So we challenged them after a game and they responded."
The Firebirds (1-4) rebounded behind senior Josh Swenson, who threw a five-hit complete game.
"That's probably the best game I've pitched in my life," said Swenson, 1-0. "In the late innings, coach asked me how my arm was doing and I told him I wanted it real bad. I think he kind of threw the pitch count out.
"I like the heart this team has. We play real well as a team. I was real confident we'd come back."
Swenson struck out 11 batters and walked one in seven innings. Free State didn't commit an error behind Swenson.
"He got behind a couple of times in the count and reached in there and got the strikeout," Hill said. "He kept the defense on their toes because he pitched in a rhythm."
The Firebirds, the visiting team on their home field in the second game since it was a makeup from Tuesday's game to be played in Olathe, broke a 1-all tie with two runs in the top of fourth. Jake Coffman knocked in Jake Neu on an infield grounder and Kyle Unruh scored on an errant throw.
Coffman, Unruh, Neu, Matt Berner and Chris Coleman each had two hits in the nightcap for Free State.
"I think this team has a little bit of character and they've demonstrated that on a couple of occasions," Hill said. "So far those things hadn't resulted in wins. Tonight they did."
In the first game, Free State also received a steady effort from its starting pitcher. Junior Eric Peterson struck out 12 battters in 61/3 innings. He was pulled with one out in the top of the seventh after surrendering his first walk.
"He was in command in that game," Hill said. "We got over 110 pitches. The intent was to bring him back on Monday (at Olathe North). When you get over 100 pitches you have to be careful. It would have been easy to leave him in there and finish, but in the long run is that fair to the kid? I didn't think it was in that instance."
The Hawks (1-2) scored five runs on three hits in the seventh. O-East tied the game at 8-all on a bases-loaded walk by Neu. Senior catcher Tommy Bryant drove in the go-ahead run with a double to left field in the eighth inning of the wild opener.
Bryant went 5-for-5 with three triples, two doubles and six RBIs in the first game that featured a bizarre finish and 10 Olathe East errors. Winning pitcher Andrew Fine was ejected with one out in the eighth as an illegal substitution. Fine pitched the bottom of the seventh and was pulled in the top of the eighth for a pinch-hitter, making him ineligible to return. Free State coaches informed the two umpires of the illegal reinsertion.
Chris Barr, Coffman and Berner each had two hits in the first game for Free State.
O-East 10, Free State 8
Free State 4, O-East 2