It’s hard to say what is motivating Free State High’s softball players most today as they host Lawrence High for the City Showdown.
“We want to win because it’s our rival,” senior Firebirds catcher Courtney Parker said, “but this year we want to get higher in the standings to have an easier road to state.”
The more FSHS (15-3) wins, the more the Firebirds think about earning a top seed for the postseason. But junior first baseman Whitney Rothwell said they don’t want to overlook the Lions (6-10), either, at 5 p.m. today at FSHS.
“Then we think, ‘Well, we’ve gotta win, because we want to show which school’s the best,’” Rothwell added.
So far this season, only Olathe South and Olathe East have defeated Free State. LHS coach Nick Wood said his Lions will need to be at their best in all facets of the game to add their name to that short list.
“They’re tough,” Wood said of FSHS. “From a hitting standpoint, they have the ability to play small ball because they have quickness in their lineup, but they also have girls who can hit for power. It’s going to be a challenging task, for sure.”
Junior Lawrence shortstop Marly Carmona hopes a recent lineup change will give the Lions a chance to have the kind of pitching and defensive efforts it will take to beat Free State. Wood recently moved freshman Brook Sumonja, the younger sister of LHS pitcher Megan Sumonja, up from junior varsity to play second base.
“She covers a lot of ground,” Carmona said, “and doesn’t want to make a mistake.”
The addition of Brook allowed Carmona to shift to shortstop and moved Morgan Byrn to third base. Kenzie Garvin, who missed some time due to injury, is now in left field.
The Lions, Carmona added, will try to keep Free State’s explosive offense in check by covering potential bunts from A’Liyah Rogers and Emily Bermel, then keeping the ball down against power hitters, such as Emily Byers and Rothwell.
“They like those high, outside pitches to take to the outfield,” Carmona said of the heart of the FSHS lineup.
Firebirds pitcher Meredith Morris (10-1) has helped the team stay in contention for a Sunflower League championship, but the Firebirds will need to beat LHS and get some help from Olathe East’s opposition in the coming days.
As his team prepares for the first of two rivalry games with LHS this week, FSHS coach Lee Ice trusts his players understand the importance of their final regular-season games.
“For us, two more wins, one more win … it helps us in the (regional) pairings and possibly being able to host,” Ice said. “So there’s a lot on the line for us, but it’s not gonna define our season, what we do against Lawrence High.”
Lawrence probable starters
P — Megan Sumonja
C — Katie Murrish
1B — Kristen Gile
2B — Brook Sumonja
3B — Morgan Byrn
SS — Marly Carmona
LF — Kenzie Garvin
CF — Andrea Mills
RF — Jolona Shield
DP — Sami Buffalomeat
Free State probable starters
P — Meredith Morris
C — Courtney Parker
1B — Whitney Rothwell
2B — Lily Ross
3B — Emily Byers
SS — A’Liyah Rogers
LF — Remington Samuels
CF — Emily Bermel
RF — Kylie Cobb