Free State High junior pitcher Ryan Cantrell didn’t overwhelm any Blue Valley Southwest batters with his velocity Friday afternoon at FSHS, but the right-hander dealt with such precision the visiting Timberwolves never posed a threat in a 6-1 Firebirds victory.
Cantrell relinquished one hit in five innings, struck out four and didn’t allow a BVSW base runner to get any farther than second base, leaving Free State coach Mike Hill appropriately pleased.
“He was terrific — multiple pitches for strikes. Hitting is timing and pitching is a disruption of timing. That’s exactly what he did today,” Hill said after the Firebirds’ fourth-straight win. “He understands what his task is and he executed it beautifully.”
Only one T’wolves batter worked Cantrell for a walk, and that came in the fourth inning, after he had retired the first 11 batters he faced. The junior pitcher gave the credit for his impressive outing to catcher Lee McMahon and pitching coach Layne Meyer.
“They both called a great game and were able to keep me calm the whole time,” Cantrell said. “You’ve got to remind yourself we have one of the best defenses in the entire Sunflower League — if not the state — and you’ve got to let them play.”
By keeping his pitches down, Cantrell forced BVSW into nine ground-outs, some of them potentially tricky tappers that were scooped up by third baseman Cameron Pope, shortstop Anthony Miele or second baseman Cooper Karlin.
A three-run Free State lead after the first inning and a 4-0 lead entering the third helped out, too.
“It gives you room to breathe,” Cantrell said of the early run production. “If you make a mistake, you know it’s not that big of a deal, because your offense will pick you up.”
Senior Jacob Caldwell struck first, with an RBI single to left field in the bottom of the first. Then came an RBI ground-out from Pope and an RBI double to the left-field gap off Lee McMahon’s bat. In the second, Joel Spain scored from third on a throwing error by T’wolves catcher TJ Martin.
Hill said taking early leads has keyed a successful start to the season for the 4-0 Firebirds.
“I think for everybody — pitchers, hitters, fielders — if you can establish a lead early,” the coach said, “that makes a difference.”
FSHS added two more runs in the bottom of the fifth, when senior Dane McCullough stepped in as a pinch hitter with two outs and the bases loaded. His single to left field plated Joe Dineen and Caldwell.
Thanks to Cantrell’s solid start, the Firebirds never had to worry, but Caldwell (2-for-3) said they didn’t ease up, either. A left-handed senior, Caldwell pitched the final two innings for FSHS. The T’wolves threatened with back-to-back hits to open the seventh, but he got out of the inning with a ground-out, an RBI infield single and a double play he started by snagging a hard-hit ball up the middle.
“Even though they were doing pretty well and getting a couple hits here and there,” Caldwell said, “I just looked at the scoreboard and saw Ryan’s given us a six-run lead. It calmed me down and made it much easier to just get them out.”
The Firebirds play Tuesday at Shawnee Mission South.
Blue Valley Southwest 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 — 1 4 1
Free State 3 1 0 0 2 0 X — 6 6 0
W — Ryan Cantrell (1-0). L — Colin Frederick.
2B — TJ Martin, Blue Valley SW; Lee McMahon, Free State.
Free State highlights — Cantrell, 5 IP, 1 H, 4 Ks, BB, 0 ER; Joel Spain, 1-3, steal, 2 runs; Joe Dineen, 2 runs; Jacob Caldwell, 2-3, RBI, 2 runs; Lee McMahon, 1-3, RBI; Dane McCullough, 1-1, 2 RBI.