Throughout the first few weeks of the season, Free State’s softball players often have discussed the importance of closing out games once they build a lead.
Tuesday against Olathe Northwest, at Lawrence High, the Firebirds did everything necessary to pick up their fifth straight win, 6-4, even after the Ravens put a three-run dent in the Firebirds’ lead in the sixth.
“The three runs didn’t lead to five, which was a good thing,” FSHS coach Lee Ice said. “They had some tough outs.”
ONW already had plated three runs in the top of the sixth to cut a five-run Free State lead to two, and had two runners in scoring position with one out when Firebirds starting pitcher Meredith Morris got out of the inning with a pop-up to shortstop A’Liyah Rogers and a ground ball right back to the pitcher.
“The important part of pitching,” Morris said, “is staying mentally tough through adversity and everything that can possibly go wrong.”
That included the inning-ending ground ball. The obvious play was to throw to first, but Morris, who admitted to feeling embarrassed about it afterward, threw home to catcher Paige Corcoran as Chandler Elsner raced down the third-base line toward the plate. Morris was thankful that Corcoran applied the tag for the third out.
“That’s what teams do,” Morris said. “They help each other out when one person makes a (mental) error.”
Ice was just grateful the pitcher made a good throw and the defense executed, meaning no one got hurt by the miscue.
“It’s one of those brain (mistakes) that normally doesn’t happen with Meredith,” Ice said. “She’s very cerebral out there and knows the situation.”
Though the top of the seventh inning began with Rogers bobbling a grounder that glanced off Morris’s glove, the pitcher fanned the next two ONW batters to finish with seven strikeouts, and Rogers snagged a line drive behind second base to end the game.
Said Morris of the agile shortstop: “She has a great mental attitude.”
Free State (8-1) took a 6-1 lead against Olathe NW (5-3) with a four-run fourth inning. Junior FSHS first baseman Whitney Rothwell, who went 3-for-4 at the plate with a pair of doubles, said the Firebirds were dialed in.
“It was really important,” Rothwell said of the four-run burst, “especially for us to get up and stay up.”
Rothwell struck out against Elsner in the first, and she said that ignited her afternoon at the plate.
“I wasn’t gonna let her strike me out again,” Rothwell said.
She doubled and scored in the third to give FSHS a 2-1 lead. Then, in the fourth, Rothwell came up with an RBI double down the right-field line to build the lead to 4-1. That was after Kylie Cobb scored on a grounder off the bat of Emily Byers. Remington Samuels extended the lead to 6-1 with a two-run single to right field.
FSHS is off until April 24, when it travels to Shawnee Mission Northwest.
Olathe Northwest 001 003 0 — 4 8 3
Free State 101 400 X — 6 12 1
W — Meredith Morris, 5-0. L — Chandler Elsner.
2B — Reagan Hathaway, Kelsey Wright, Maddie Boland, Olathe NW; Whitney Rothwell (2)Paige Corcoran, Free State. 3B — A’Liyah Rogers, Free State.
Free State highlights — Morris, 7 Ks, 2 BBs, 2-for-4, RBI; Rothwell, 3-for-4, RBI, 2 Rs; Kylie Cobb, 2-for-3, R; Remington Samuels, 1-for-3, SB, 2 RBI; Rogers, 1-for-3, R.