For the second time in two games, the Free State High baseball team came from behind to win.
But a quick look at the scene after the Firebirds’ 4-3 victory against St. James Academy on Monday afternoon at Kansas University’s Hoglund Ballpark might have suggested that both teams had lost.
“That’s the story of the day,” FSHS coach Mike Hill said. “The tarp beat both teams.”
Playing at KU’s field because Free State’s newly revamped facility remains incomplete, the Firebirds and Thunder battled the elements for seven innings and then battled the tarp for what amounted to three or four more.
Gusts of nearly 60 miles per hour made covering the KU field after the game more of a nightmare than pitching, hitting and fielding in the breeze combined. Not that either team did any of the three particularly well Monday.
The teams combined for just seven runs and 11 hits , but struck out a combined 19 times — 13 by St. James batters — and comitted a total of eight errors. The odd thing about the high error total was that none of the eight was because of the wind.
“We just talked about having an attitude,” Hill said of adressing his team about the conditions prior to the first pitch. “You can’t control the elements in the spring in Kansas, and both teams have to play in it. That’s all you say, really, and then you just don’t talk about it.”
St. James scored first, when junior Otis Miller grounded out to shortstop in the top of the first, plating Jake Decelles, who had reached on a walk and advanced to third base on an error.
That lead was short-lived, as Free State received back-to-back RBIs in the bottom of the second from senior Tyler Hatesohl and sophomore Colin Toalson, scoring Adam Petz, who had singled, and Ryan Scott, who had walked.
While the Free State offense was busy taking the lead, starting pitcher Cody Kukuk was busy throwing strikes. In three innings, Kukuk fanned seven of the nine batters he faced.
Winner Hayden Emerson relieved Kukuk in the fourth and struck out three Thunder hitters before Ryan Scott struck out three in the final two innings to pick up the save.
Free State (2-0) will travel to Oklahoma this weekend for the 4-State Festival.