Tyler Hatesohl surveyed the scene, saw the score six outs from the finish, looked at his pitcher on the mound and figured the outcome of Free State High’s baseball game no longer was in doubt on Tuesday afternoon.
At the time, the Firebirds clung to a one-run lead with the steady throwing arm of junior Ryan Scott on the hill.
“We figured it would be over then,” said Hatesohl, Free State’s second baseman.
In these situations, it had been over so many times throughout this season. Only this time, the contest was far from over.
Uncharacteristically, the Firebirds lost the lead. Then, they lost the game.
Free State fell, 9-4, against Shawnee Mission East at home, a defeat that ended the Firebirds’ string of 19 consecutive victories in Sunflower League play.
This season, Free State (11-2, 7-1 Sunflower League) had allowed a minuscule 19 runs in its first 12 games (1.72 runs per game) and hadn’t surrendered more than three runs in any contest.
Free State coach Mike Hill said maintaining that level of success in every game was asking an awful lot of his players.
“I mean, that’s ridiculous,” Hill said. “I think our kids deserve a lot of credit. Having said that, you also know that you’re kind of living on the edge, and you can’t do that all the time. Today, it caught up with us a little bit.”
Scott entered the contest in the fifth inning in relief of starting pitcher Hayden Emerson with Emerson in line for the victory. Just a half-inning earlier, the Firebirds had taken a 4-3 lead when Hatesohl scored from third on a wild pitch.
And when the Firebirds own a late-game lead this season, they’ve rarely coughed it back up. Free State already had claimed seven victories by two runs or fewer.
“I mean, we’ve kind of throughout the year just been able to get out of stuff,” Scott said.
But this time, Scott noticed he was leaving his warmup pitches up during his bullpen session. That didn’t improve once he took the mound in relief.
“I couldn’t throw a fastball. I couldn’t throw a changeup. I couldn’t really throw anything,” Scott said. “I just wasn’t feeling it today.”
The Lancers (4-9) slapped Scott for five runs on four hits in the sixth, the dagger being a three-run double from SM East second baseman Matt Hill that gave his team a 6-4 lead. Hill finished with five RBIs.
“That’s more than we’ve given up all year, especially with Scotty,” Hatesohl said. “It was unusual.”
Without Scott, the Firebirds likely wouldn’t have had a lead to begin with. In the first inning, Scott drove a fastball into the right-center field gap, scoring Connor Stremel and Nick Hassig for a 2-0 advantage.
Hill said he was unsure if Tuesday’s outcome was just anomaly. After all, his team’s offense hasn’t exactly clicked, scoring four runs or fewer in nine games this season.
Hill was sure of one thing, though.
“Ryan’s a great pitcher,” he said. “If he’s in that situation again, we’ll feel as comfortable as we did today.”
Free State returns to the diamond today when it takes on Shawnee Heights in a non-conference game at 5:30 p.m. at home.