It didn’t take Lee Ice long to witness both sides of Sunflower League softball.
Ice, Free State High’s first-year coach, debuted with a pair of lopsided routs of Leavenworth last week. But on Thursday night, Ice had to go against perennial Class 6A power Olathe East.
The potent Hawks won the opener, 14-1, and captured the nightcap, 3-1, at Free State’s facility.
“We’re not as bad as 14 to one,” Ice said. “Our pitching was better in the second game. We hoped for a close game and that’s what we got.”
Still, the common denominator was an inability to hit O-East pitching. Free State managed only three hits in the first game and just two in the nightcap. Against Leavenworth, the Firebirds romped 20-0 and 19-1.
“But we actually got more out of this,” Ice said, “than when we scored 39 against Leavenworth.”
Lesson No. 1 was obvious. O-East had nine hits in the second game and seven were either infield or bunt singles. Meanwhile, the Firebirds had zero infield or bunt singles.
“That’s something we haven’t worked on enough,” Ice said. “Bunt offense and bunt defense.”
Thursday’s games were the first played on Free State’s new artificial-turf field, and only the fifth time the Firebirds had been on it. Previously, they had practiced on the nearby football field. Last week’s season openers against Leavenworth had to be moved to the Clinton Lake Softball Complex.
Also working against the Firebirds Thursday night was their youth. Ice started four sophomores and three freshmen, and a couple of mental errors led to a pair of O-East runs in the 3-1 loss.
Moreover, regular catcher Lauren Fox, one of only four seniors on the roster, suffered a sprained ankle during gym class earlier in the day and didn’t suit.
Of the Firebirds’ five hits, only one was for extra bases and it came in the seventh inning of the second game.
After freshman Courtney Parker, who was filling in for Fox behind the plate, coaxed a two-out walk, soph third baseman Sam O’Brien plugged the gap in right-centerfield. Parker scored easily and O’Brien slid into third with a triple.
“They exposed our weaknesses,” Ice said of the Hawks. “We know the things we need to work on.”
Ice said he was hoping Fox would be back for next Tuesday’s home twinbill against Olathe South.