By the time Free State High baseball junior Anthony Miele stepped into the batter’s box in the bottom of the ninth Saturday against Blue Valley North, the Firebirds had gone 20 batters in a row without a hit and seen a one-run lead with two outs in the bottom of the seventh disappear.
With the bases loaded and no outs, Miele knocked a game-winning single to left field for a 2-1 Firebirds victory at FSHS.
Though Free State had scrounged up 10 base runners in innings five through eight — thanks to walks, Mustangs errors and a fielder’s choice — Miele’s game-winner over BVN left fielder Jacob Fultz’s head was the home team’s first hit since a Lee McMahon single in the fourth.
Miele said he was “guessing fastball” on the winning hit, but turned on a hanging curve from Mustangs reliever David Thompson.
“I got lucky and made some solid contact on it,” Miele said.
Considering the Firebirds (8-8) hadn’t scored a run since the bottom of the second, when JD Prochaska hit a double down the first-base line to score McMahon, FSHS coach Mike Hill knew his team had a shot in the ninth once McMahon (2-for-3) drew a walk.
“The key in games like that is you’ve got to get the leadoff guy on,” Hill said.
Following clean-up hitter McMahon’s leadoff walk, Prochaska reached on an error and BVN intentionally walked Tim Turner to load the bases.
Said Miele: “Once we had four, five and six get on, it put the weight on my shoulders, and I had to come up big for the team.”
Had the Firebirds not come through in extras, junior relief pitcher Sam Hearnen would’ve felt the brunt of a disappointing loss. Hearnen, who relieved starter Ryan Cantrell (four innings pitched, two walks, one hit) to begin the fifth inning, had the Mustangs down to their final out in the top of the seventh.
Alex Shartzer kept BVN alive by sliding safely, head-first, into first base with an infield single. Then Hearnen hit the next three batters, allowing the Mustangs to tie the game, 1-1.
Hearnen said he isn’t usually one to bean a batter, let alone three straight.
“My accuracy’s usually pretty good,” he said. “I don’t know what it was — if it was my arm dragging or something. I hit those three guys in a row, and I was kind of shellshocked by the fact that that happened.”
To his credit, the bleeding stopped there. Hearnen got out of the seventh with a diving grab by senior first baseman Montana Samuels, and the reliever retired six of the last seven batters he faced to finish with five innings of work, three hits allowed and two strikeouts.
Hearnen knew he had to keep his head up, he said, and he wanted to finish the game strong because he felt terrible about giving up the tying run.
“I knew no matter what happened, I just had to go out the next inning and try to get three outs, straight up,” he said.
Hill was happy to see his top relief pitcher recover.
“He faced a little adversity there in the seventh and there wasn’t anything coming to rescue him,” Hill said. “He had to get it done on his own, and he did. He was spectacular.”
The Firebirds play host to Olathe North at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday.