One was cool. Two was incredible. Three? Not such a big deal.
Saturday afternoon, after Free State junior Cody Kukuk had hit his third home run — and second grand slam — in a 14-1, five-inning victory against Heritage (Ark.) High, Kukuk returned to the dugout to a luke-warm response.
After the first homer, a two-run shot in the bottom of the first, Kukuk’s teammates serenaded him with shouts of “great job” and “way to go” as the Kansas University commitment returned to the dugout.
Then, after a grand slam in the bottom of the second that hit off of the batter’s eye in straightaway center field gave the Firebirds a 7-0 lead, Kukuk was greeted by tons of high-fives and fist bumps.
But after the third dinger — another grand slam to center — put Free State up 14-0, nobody in the FSHS dugout said so much as a word.
“After the third one, they kind of big-timed me,” Kukuk said. “But they were just messing around.”
That was the only time Saturday that the Firebirds messed around, scoring two in the first, five in the second, one in the third and six in the fourth to send Heritage home quickly.
On the day, Kukuk was 3-for-3 at the plate (with a walk in the third) with three home runs and 10 RBIs. The 10-RBI outing tied a school record set by Kyle Cross in 2007. Free State coach Mike Hill said the three home runs in one game were a school record, surpassing several former players who had left the yard twice in the same game.
“That was certainly among the top performances I’ve seen,” Hill said of Kukuk’s monster day. “I’ve seen a lot of players come through this town in the last 30-some years, and he has the opportunity to be among the best.”
Rob Wagner picked up the victory on the mound, surrendering four hits and no runs in four innings. Ryan Scott took another step toward a full return as he slammed the door in the fifth. And Connor Stremel reached base four times and scored three runs. Cory Delg and Nick Hassig each reached base three times.
“We’ve been talking an awful lot about trying to get hold of a game offensively and win it with our offense,” Hill said. “We’re a team that’s built on pitching and defense, but if we can get our offense to a level we showed today on a consistent basis, we’ve got a chance to be a very good team.”
The Firebirds (8-2) will travel to Shawnee Mission East on Monday.