After having the final two games of her high school career snatched away, Sam O’Brien likely appreciates the opportunity to play in the Mo-Kan Softball All-Star Series more than most of the other all-stars.
O’Brien, a shortstop from Free State High, will play for Kansas in the all-star event — 5 p.m. Monday at the Shawnee Mission School District Softball Complex — still wishing her final days as a Firebird could have ended differently.
Less than 48 hours before FSHS played in a Class 6A regional tournament, O’Brien coughed all through practice. She felt awful. By the time she got home that night, she couldn’t breathe well.
O’Brien’s parents, Kelly and Mary, took her to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with pneumonia.
Of course, the biggest games of the year were the shortstop’s primary concern. O’Brien, who had compiled a .408 batting average and 29 RBIs in her senior season, felt devastated when doctors told her she wouldn’t be able to play for Free State at the regional tournament.
She remained in the hospital until game day, a stay that included a visit from her teammates the night before the playoffs and hours of chagrin and regret.
O’Brien decided she would do anything within her power to attend the playoff games at Topeka Washburn Rural and support her teammates. Upon getting released from the hospital too late to watch FSHS beat Manhattan in a semifinal, O’Brien told her father, Kelly, she couldn’t imagine missing what could be the final game of her prep career: the Firebirds’ regional championship game against Washburn Rural.
Her dad drove O’Brien to the game, and they arrived just in time for her to surprise her teammates before the first inning, wearing her No. 27 jersey with shorts instead of softball pants.
FSHS pitcher Meredith Morris said the players were delighted to see O’Brien walk onto the diamond.
“She’s an important part of the team, and we always want everybody here with us,” Morris said.
The joy didn’t have much staying power, as Free State lost, 16-3.
Said catcher Courtney Parker afterward of her ill teammate: “We missed her out there.”
O’Brien, lacking any energy, felt miserable as a spectator in the dugout.
“It was just frustrating having to sit there and watch the game and not be able to do anything about it,” she said.
As it turned out, O’Brien’s last game in a FSHS uniform was a suspended 3-3 game at Shawnee Mission South in the regular-season finale.
“It’s definitely not how I imagined it would end,” O’Brien said.
Now, with her selection to the Kansas all-star team, the shortstop has a chance to bring some closure to her senior year. Her FSHS coach, Lee Ice, will be with her as an assistant.
“I’m excited about it,” O’Brien said. “It’s kind of like playing my last high school game.”