Olathe Before Tuesday, Free State High’s softball team hadn’t lost a Sunflower League game, been swept in a doubleheader or fell victim to a run-rule loss this season.
Olathe East junior pitcher Allison Stewart and her Hawks teammates changed all of that at Olathe District Activity Center, where the Firebirds fell a game behind O-East in the chase for a league title with a 7-1 loss in the opener, followed by a 12-2, five-inning setback in the nightcap.
Stewart struck out 15 of the 26 Firebirds she faced to keep O-East (13-1) unbeaten in league games at 8-0.
FSHS junior pitcher Meredith Morris, who fell victim to Stewart strikeouts three times, said her opponent’s array of pitches make her more difficult to hit than most of the arms Free State (13-3, 8-1) has seen.
“Her movement, her rise, her change, her drop — I mean, everything moves,” Morris said. “It starts in the strike zone and as soon as you know it’s gonna be out (a ball), you’re already swinging. She’s an amazing pitcher. We just needed to shorten up.”
Firebirds junior first baseman Whitney Rothwell, who went 2-for-3 with an RBI double in the fourth inning against Stewart, said the O-East ace didn’t have to throw overwhelmingly fast to be effective.
“Her rise ball was getting every single one of us, no matter where we were,” Rothwell said. “And we were going for it, because it looked so great coming in. She just had some really nasty pitches.”
Still, Morris kept the Hawks’ offense in check for four-plus innings, allowing two hits and one run headed into the fifth, before Free State’s 10-game winning streak came to an end, courtesy of a two-out Hawks rally.
The game remained tied at 1 after Morris retired the first two batters she faced in the bottom of the fifth. But O-East leadoff hitter Elizabeth Leonard kept the inning alive with a base hit. McKenna Davis followed with a short bunt and reached safely when FSHS second baseman Lily Ross dropped the throw to first.
O-East then made FSHS pay, with four more two-out hits to drive in five runs and take a 6-1 lead. Considering how strong O-East, the defending Class 6A state champion, has looked, Free State coach Lee Ice said his team needed to play almost perfectly, and it didn’t.
“We did for four innings,” Ice said, “and then we had two outs and the leadoff (hitter for O-East) gets on, we make an error and the wheels fall off.”
Things went even worse for Free State in the second game, despite a brief 1-0 lead in the first, when A’Liyah Rogers bunted for a single and eventually scored on a passed ball. O-East plated three in the first and second and six more in the fourth to set up a 10-run win.
Before dropping two to O-East, the Firebirds hadn’t lost since April 2, at Olathe South. Rothwell said they will need to bounce back in a hurry with a 4:15 p.m. home doubleheader against Shawnee Mission East today.
“We can’t just go out there thinking just because we’ve won so many games we’re automatically gonna win,” she said. “We’ve got to go out there and fight.”
Free State 000 100 0 — 1 5 2
Olathe East 010 005 X — 7 10 0
W — Allison Stewart. L — Meredith Morris (9-1).
2B — Whitney Rothwell, Free State. 3B — Jenni Brooks, O-East.
Free State highlights — Rothwell, 2-for-3, RBI; A’Liyah Rogers, 1-for-3, R; Emily Bermel, 1-for-3, Courtney Parker, 1-for-3.
Free State 100 01 — 2 6 2
Olathe East 330 6X — 12 16 1
W — Brooks. L — Kaley Delg (4-2).
2B — Morris, Free State; Stewart, Taylor Officer, O-East.
Free State highlights — Rogers, 2-for-3, R; Kylie Cobb, 1-for-2, R; Parker, 1-for-2, Rothwell, 1-for-3, Emily Byers, RBI.