Free State High's softball team played two radically different games Friday, yet the Firebirds lost both against Shawnee Mission Northwest.
The Firebirds were soundly defeated, 11-1, in the first game, but bounced back before dropping a nailbiter in the nightcap, 4-2.
Firebirds coach Pam Pine didn't know why her squad played so differently.
"I was sitting there trying to figure that out myself," Pine said, "because I thought that (SM Northwest pitcher Kim Jones) threw harder than the one in the first game."
The close second game was a pleasant surprise, since Jones struck out 14 Firebird batters going into the final inning. But Free State kept it close defensively and had two runners in scoring position with one out in the bottom of the seventh before Jones turned in her 15th and 16th strikeouts against the next two Free State batters.
Free State's Jamie Stanclift said it almost was impossible to win with so many batters swinging at so many pitches.
"We struck out a whole lot more than normal," Stanclift said. "Everyone has their off days, but we just had a lot of people with off days today. And when that all snowballs, it's tough to come back from those strikeouts."
It seemed the second game was headed the way of the first when the Cougars scored four runs in the first two innings while Jones struck out the first six Firebirds.
But Free State pitcher Catherine Smith settled down and allowed six hits the rest of the way -- just days after picking up a victory Tuesday against Leavenworth.
"I thought I did a good job. I did even better than (against Leavenworth)," Smith said.
It was the sort of performance Free State could have used in the first game.
Starter Ashley Wagner was laced early and often by Cougar batters, and she didn't get much run support, either. SMNW quickly mounted a 5-0 lead in the third inning and didn't look back.
The only Free State run came when SMNW shortstop Katie Mathis dropped a towering fly ball with two outs. By the time the ball bounced off her glove, Brooke Abney was about to step on home plate.
Free State (4-4) will travel Tuesday to Shawnee Mission West.