It wasn’t the cleanest brand of baseball, but Free State High wasn’t complaining Saturday after defeating Branson (Mo.), 6-3, in an error-heavy game at Hoglund Ballpark.
Finishing 3-0 at the River City Baseball Festival and getting their winning percentage above .500 for the first time this season helped the normally stellar Firebirds forgive themselves for committing four of the nine errors between the two teams.
The top of the fifth was particularly disastrous for FSHS (7-6). The game was scoreless before starting pitcher JD Prochaska, shortstop Anthony Miele and first baseman Montana Samuels each committed an error, allowing Branson to take a 2-0 lead.
The weight of those mistakes lessened considerably for coach Mike Hill’s team when Free State came right back in the bottom of the fifth to take a 3-2 lead.
“Just like (Friday), we had an inning where defensively we fell apart,” Hill said, “but we didn’t allow that to set the tone for the rest of the game.”
With one out in the fifth, sophomore Ryan Cantrell singled to get the Firebirds started. It was with two outs that back-to-back Branson errors kept the inning alive.
The bases were loaded for Lee McMahon, who drew his second RBI walk of the festival, sending Cantrell home for Free State’s first run.
That brought up senior Trent Johnson, who blooped an outside pitch down the right-field line. The ball fell safely between three Branson players and Johnson put FSHS ahead for good with a double that plated Joel Spain and courtesy runner Zach Bickling.
“I was just trying to put the ball in play and make something happen,” Johnson said. “In that situation, with the bases loaded, you can’t strike out.”
Hill has said all season that defense was a strength for the team, and he liked the way the Firebirds handled their mistakes in the win.
“We were able to come right back and respond,” the coach said. “I think that says a little something about the kids’ character.”
Starting pitcher Prochaska earned the win in five innings with five hits, three strikeouts and no earned runs.
“We were mainly just trying to keep our heads up,” he said of not letting the errors turn into a loss. “I think we did a decent job of that — staying with it, not giving up.”
Free State had four of its seven hits in the fifth and sixth innings. Hill was pleased his team was able to put three more runs on the board in the sixth, when Cameron Pope singled and later scored on an error, Spain scored Jacob Caldwell with a squeeze bunt and Samuels knocked in Cantrell with a groundout.
Reliever Sam Hearnen closed out the game for the third day in a row, allowing one hit and one run in two innings.
The festival proved to be a successful stage for Free State, which began the season 0-5. Now on a six-game winning streak, Johnson said the Firebirds are figuring out how to win.
“The game is about making adjustments,” Johnson said, “and the teams that make the adjustments the fastest are the ones who survive.”
At 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, FSHS resumes Sunflower League play at Olathe South.