Harrison Hughes homers, Ethan Bradford leads Firebirds past Gardner Edgerton

photo by: Carter Gaskins

Free State pitcher Ethan Bradford (18) winds up for the pitch on Thursday, April 12, 2018. Free State beat Gardner Edgerton, 3-1.

Starting in the varsity lineup for the first time in his career, Free State senior Harrison Hughes wanted to make the most of it.

With one swing in the second inning, he made it a night that he won’t soon forget.

Hughes drilled a high fastball down the left field line — “It wasn’t even a strike,” he said. He thought the ball would hook foul, waiting a few ticks before running to first base. But the wind helped it sail more than 330 feet over the fence for a solo home run in an eventual 3-1 victory over Gardner Edgerton (1-6) at FSHS.

When Hughes returned to the dugout, his teammates shouted in joy for their teammate.

“I’ve just been working hard at practice, waiting until I get a chance,” Hughes said. “They finally gave it to me and I knew I had to make something of it. I’m just glad it happened like that.”

It was only the fourth at-bat of the season for Hughes, who said he takes each practice seriously to stay prepared for games. He didn’t even realize the ball crossed the fence until his coaches starting celebrating — the program’s first homer of the season.

Coaches and teammates were happy to see Hughes, who was cut from the program in his sophomore year, rewarded for all of his hard work.

“We’re not going to say it was wind-aided at all,” FSHS coach Mike Hill said. “He deserves every success that he’s getting because he’s earned it.”

Along with Hughes’ home run, Jaxson Webb provided early run support with a leadoff double in the first inning before scoring on a double play.

That’s all Free State left-hander Ethan Bradford needed from his offense. He was phenomenal with his command, frequently throwing first-pitch strikes to attack hitters.

“He got a lot of out of his breaking pitch today,” Hill said. “Early in the count, late in the count, I thought he was able to keep them off balance, sometimes guessing.”

It was a bounce-back performance from Bradford, who surrendered a walk-off, three-run homer against Olathe South on Wednesday. Helping the Firebirds (5-4) snap a two-game losing streak, he struck out six in a complete game.

Allowing one hit through the first five innings, Bradford showcased his toughness in the sixth. Giving up back-to-back hits to the top of the order, including an RBI single by Gardner Edgerton’s Daryn Johnson, he stranded the game-tying run at second base. That included an inning-ending strikeout in an 11-pitch at-bat.

“He needs to work himself out of that,” Hill said. “When you’ve got a young team, you have to let them get through that. Sometimes that means you’re going to fail and we have this year but it’s an opportunity to grow.”

After Jake Rittman hit an RBI single in the top of the seventh inning — the Firebirds were the visiting team because of ongoing renovations at the Trailblazers’ home field — Bradford continued to thrive in pressure situations.

Bradford allowed a two-out double in the bottom of the seventh inning, which sent Hill out for a mound visit with the tying run at the plate.

“(Hill) came up to me,” Bradford recalled, “and was like, ‘We got this. We’re fine.’ He knew I was going to get the last out.”

Three pitches later, the Firebirds were celebrating their first win of the week after a sliding catch in right field by Jack Kallenberger.

“We needed this win bad,” Bradford said.

Free State 110 000 1 — 3 5 1

Gardner Edgerton 000 001 0 — 1 5 2

W — Ethan Bradford. L — Logan Green.

2B — Jaxson Webb, FS; Cullen Cassida, GE. 3B — Daryn Johnson, GE. HR — Harrison Hughes, FS.

FSHS highlights — Bradford, 7 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 6 K; Jake Rittman, 2 for 4, RBI; Webb, 1 for 4, run; Hughes, 1 for 3, run, RBI.