Wichita Summer Mulford figured to catch more sack time this morning than her Free State High softball teammates.
"No finals," Mulford said with a smile. "I get to sleep in."
Mulford, the Firebirds' lone senior, earned the extra shut-eye after hurling a five-hitter to help Free State whip Wichita Heights, 6-1, Tuesday night in the championship game of the Class 6A regional at Two Rivers Youth Complex.
All the other Firebirds - and the coaches - had to be at school this morning even though they wouldn't be in their beds until after midnight following a three-hour bus ride to Lawrence.
Earlier Tuesday, Mulford looked more like she had missed a wake-up call when she started against Lawrence High and lasted only three innings, surrendering six hits and six runs.
But she was wide awake against Heights.
"There was a little bit less tension in the second game," Mulford said, "because, for one thing, it wasn't Lawrence High, our rival, and it wasn't the first game."
Fortunately for the Firebirds, reliever Catherine Smith stopped the Lions without a run over the last four innings and Free State recorded an 8-6 victory to advance to the final.
"Summer gets a little rattled when she gets hit," Free State coach Pam Pine said, "and Lawrence High really hit the ball. I pulled her because they were hitting her so hard."
Still, Pine opted to start Mulford against the homestanding Falcons in the state-qualifying game even though she had thrown BP to the Lions.
"I thought Summer would match up better against the Heights hitters," Pine said. "I was going to try her and if she got hit again I'd put in Catherine."
Smith wasn't needed this time. Mulford fanned five Falcons and her drop ball resulted in eight groundouts - five to third baseman Lexi Smith, one of three freshman starters.
Another freshman may have made the game-saving play.
With two outs, Wichita Heights loaded the bases in the second inning on a walk and a pair of singles. Minutes later, Heights' Jaci Maple launched a Mulford pitch into the right-center gap.
But Rosie Hull, a West Junior High ninth-grader playing center field for the first time, speared the drive on the dead run. Inning over. No damage.
"Rosie usually plays in right," Pine said, "but she's the quickest girl on the team, and we'd been having some problems in center so I put her there."
A half-inning earlier, the Firebirds also had the bases loaded with two outs, and Brooke Abney bashed a pitch to approximately the same area. Yet Abney's blow rolled all the way to the fence for a double that staked the Firebirds to a 3-0 lead.
"I tried to not think, just hit," said Abney, a right-handed hitter. "I'm glad I went the other way."
In the second inning, Aleese Kopf doubled in Hull, who had singled, to expand the lead to 4-0. Then the 'Birds iced it with a pair of runs in the top of the seventh on a hit batter and doubles by Allie Hock and Hannah Sommers.
Heights' lone run crossed when Lyndsey Maple tripled - the Falcons' only extra-base hit - to lead off the fifth and scored on a ground out.
Free State will be returning to the same Wichita facility May 26 for its second straight appearance in the Class 6A state tournament. The Firebirds finished fourth last year.
Heights, the regional's second seed, finished with a 17-5 record - the same mark Free State will take into the state tourney.
Free State 8, Lawrence High 6
Free State snapped a 6-6 tie with a pair of unearned runs in the sixth inning, and benefited from a controversial call in the seventh inning.
The Lions had the potential tying runs on second and third with no outs in the top of the seventh after Drew Huff singled and Erin Miller doubled over center fielder Hannah Somers' head.
Minutes later, the Lions' Lauren Kelly skied a ball to left-center that Somers juggled momentarily before gaining control. Meanwhile, Huff had tagged up and apparently scored the Lions' seventh run on the sacrifice fly.
However, the third-base umpire ruled Huff had left third too soon.
"He said I took off while she was bobbling it," Huff said.
LHS coach Reenie Stogsdill argued the deflating call with no success.
"You teach kids to go on the first touch," Stogsdill said. "Drew left on the first touch, but the umpire didn't see it that way."
After the appeal double play, Firebirds' pitcher Catherine Smith fanned Amanda Weishaar to end the Lions' season on a 12-game losing streak and with a 6-15 record.
"You can't blame one play," Stogsdill said about the umpire's judgment call, "but it's hard to swallow. To me, it's not fair to the kids. They deserve better."
Even though she whiffed to end it, Weishaar had a big day. The junior first baseman stroked a pair of doubles, including a bases-clearing blow in the third inning, and finished with four RBIs.
Miller had three hits and Huff two as the Lions out-hit the Firebirds, 9-8. But the ump's ruling and five errors were too much to overcome.
"For us, six runs is a lot," Stogsdill said. "We had trouble on the mound and defensively, but we hit the heck out of the ball today."
Starter Dequesne Sprow lasted only two-thirds of an inning. She gave up two hits - including a two-run home run by Livi Abney - walked four and threw two wild pitches.
Smith was the winning pitcher. The sophomore right-hander took over for starter Summer Mulford in the fourth inning and held the Lions to three hits and no runs over the last four frames.
Kayley Lane and Sommers had RBI singles in the seventh after Huff made back-to-back errors at shortstop to plate the decisive runs.