In two innings, Free State High’s baseball team went from approaching a mercy rule to a competitive game against Sapulpa (Okla.) on Thursday.
The Firebirds didn’t give up their seven-run lead but weren’t thrilled with the way they played in the final innings of an eventual 7-4 victory at University of Kansas’ Hoglund Ballpark in their first game of the River City Festival.
Despite a late rally from Sapulpa, the Firebirds avoided any drama when relief pitcher Nate Strathman closed with a scoreless 1 2/3 innings, striking out two.
“We were not pleased with the way we played from the fourth inning on,” FSHS coach Mike Hill said. “We got up and we let off. There’s no way you can do that and be a successful team. But we did some good things early.”
The Firebirds (7-3) approached the mercy rule with a four-run third inning. Five straight Free State hitters reached base — two walks, hit batsman, an error and a single from Jaden Moore.
Daniel Bryant and Jacob Pavlyak drew bases-loaded walks before Zion Bowlin hit a two-run single into center field for a 7-0 lead.
“All three of their pitchers were throwing a lot of off speed,” said Bowlin, who hit three singles. “Just keeping my head on the ball and not letting it throw me off too much.”
Bowlin scored in the first inning on a RBI single into left field from Strathman, who went 2-for-4 at the plate.
In the second inning, Jake Rittman drew a leadoff walk before Matt Hill drilled a pitch to the left-field fence for an RBI double.
Known for his defense at shortstop, Hill said he’s made strides at the plate in his senior season, which has sparked the bottom of the FSHS lineup. He scored in the second inning on a RBI single from leadoff hitter Pavlyak.
“It was actually a hit-and-run and he left a fastball up and in,” the FSHS shortstop said of his double. “I just got around on it and it felt good.”
Mike Hill, the coach, added: “I’m pleased with what he’s doing offensively. That’s exactly what we hoped we’d get from him. The bottom of our order has really done a nice job.”
After scoring seven runs in the first four innings, the Firebirds were limited to zero runs on three hits in their final three frames.
“We’ve hit some hard balls right to people,” Mike Hill said. “I think there were three today that got us. But, hey, nobody is perfect. We weren’t today, but we get to come back tomorrow and try again.”
The Firebirds will face Tulsa Memorial (Okla.) at 3:45 today at FSHS.
Sapulpa 000 202 0 — 4 9 2
Free State 124 000 x — 7 10 0
W — Dale Miller, 4-0. L — Rees Kidd.
2B — Matt Hill, FS.
FSHS highlights — Jacob Pavlyak, 2-for-3, walk, 2 RBI; Zion Bowlin, 3-for-4, 2 RBI; Nate Strathman, 2-for-4, RBI, 1.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 2 K; Hill, 1-for-2, run, RBI; Dale Miller, 5.1 IP, 8 H, 4 ER, 0 BB, 3 K.