Before freshman Emily Byers stepped into the batter’s box to lead off the bottom of the fourth inning Thursday afternoon against Shawnee Mission West, Free State High softball coach Lee Ice told his No. 3 hitter if she got ahead in the count, she had the green light to hit the ball as far as she could.
In response, Byers spanked a solo home run over the center-field wall at FSHS, inciting a nine-run inning and an easy, 14-0, five-inning victory to open the doubleheader. Free State swept with an 8-2 victory in Game 2, extending its winning streak to nine games.
SMW pitcher Cheyenne Stevens elevated her pitch on Byers’ homer, and then made the same mistake against Firebirds junior Whitney Rothwell, who sent a near duplicate blast out to center for back-to-back home runs.
“It lit up the team,” Byers said of the shots, after going 3-for-4 with four RBIs, “and motivated them to do exactly what we did. It worked.”
The solo blasts gave Free State (12-1 overall, 7-0 Sunflower League) a 7-0 lead in the fourth, but the Firebirds kept on punishing the Vikings (2-10, 1-6).
An error following a bunt single by Remington Samuels allowed courtesy runner Courtney Elston and Meredith Morris to score, making it 9-0. Two batters later, FSHS had just one out and the top of its lineup coming up with Samuels and Paige Corcoran on base. A’Liyah Rogers, Emily Bermel, Byers, Rothwell and Courtney Parker delivered five straight hits, and the Vikings were through.
Said Rogers: “Once we have them down, we just keep kicking them down. We never stop. We needed those hits for a big lead, so they couldn’t come back.”
Not that SMW had much of a chance against FSHS starting pitcher Meredith Morris (8-0). The junior allowed one base hit in the first and another in the fourth. She struck out three and retired 14 of the 17 batters she faced without allowing a walk.
Ice claimed the sweep wasn’t as easy as it looked.
“I approach (games) all the same way, and that’s the thing you’ve got to get the kids to understand,” the coach said. “It’s a new day, and you can’t take anything for granted. Even after the 14-0, it’s a 4-2 game (in the fourth inning of the nightcap) and we added a couple here and there.”
The Vikings scored two in the top of the fourth, because it was the only inning of the second game in which they got to FSHS junior pitcher Kaley Delg. SMW had three of its five hits in that frame, and Delg (4-1) struck out two, while walking none in a complete game.
An RBI single from Courtney Parker and a two-run base hit for Samuels in the fifth eradicated any chance the Vikings had of keeping it close.
Free State will host Olathe North on Saturday.
Shawnee Mission West 000 00 — 0 2 1
Free State 041 9x— 14 20 0
W — Meredith Morris (8-0). L — Cheyenne Stevens.
2B — Emily Byers, Free State. HR — Byers, Whitney Rothwell, Free State.
Free State highlights — Morris, 5 IP, 2 H, 4 K, 2-for-4; Rothwell, 4-for-4, 3 RBIs; A’Liyah Rogers, 3-for-4, 2 RBIs; Emily Bermel, 3-for-4, 2 RBIs; Byers, 3-for-4, 4 RBIs; Remington Samuels, 2-for-3.
Shawnee Mission West 000 200 0 — 2 5 2
Free State 103 031 x — 8 11 0
W — Kaley Delg (4-1) . L — Dela Boyd.
2B — Ashley Mercer, Jaden Bray, SM West; Rogers, Courtney Parker, Free State.
Free State highlights — Delg, 7 IP, 5 H, 0 BB, 2 K; Byers, 2-for-3, RBI; Bermel, 2-for-3; Parker, 2-for-4, 2 RBI; Rogers, 2-for-4; Samuels, 1-for-3, 2 RBIs.