Defending champs sweep FSHS softball
The past few weeks, Free State High’s softball players began growing accustomed to winning, even while playing eight of their previous 10 games on the road.
The Firebirds’ home field proved unaccommodating during a doubleheader Tuesday, but that had more to do with the visitors — back-to-back Class 6A state champion Olathe East. The Hawks remained undefeated, and each of their starting pitchers opened a game with a swift kick to the gut in the form of first-inning homers as FSHS fell, 7-2, against senior hurler Allison Stewart and, 8-2, versus freshman pitcher Hayley McGhee.
Stewart, a back-to-back Gatorade Kansas softball player of the year who committed to play at Arkansas, sent 10 Firebirds back to the dugout with strikeouts, but FSHS coach Lee Ice kept thinking about her first at-bat.
“We pitched to Stewart in the first, and we shouldn’t have,” Ice said. “A base was open, and she hits a bomb with a two-run homer. It’s tough to manufacture or catch up when you’re facing her (as a pitcher).”
Indeed, Free State (10-6 overall, 5-4 Sunflower League), which had won nine of its previous 10 games, trailed 7-0 by the fifth inning. Finally, junior shortstop Lily Ross led off with a ground-rule double, junior center fielder Emily Bermel turned a base hit to center field into a double with her speed and hustle, and the Firebirds ended up plating two runs. Ross scored on a wild pitch, and sophomore third baseman Emily Byers drove in Bermel with a groundout.
But FSHS errors — four total — in the first, fourth and fifth innings helped O-East (14-0, 8-0) get out to an insurmountable lead.
“This is the best team in the state,” Ice said. “You can’t make mistakes.”
Bermel, who went 4-for-4 in the first game and 7-for-8 in the twinbill, thought Free State’s eight hits against Stewart would’ve been more productive if not for the miscues.
“I was surprised to see our defense didn’t hold up like it did last year,” the center fielder said. “And it’s hard. You have new players playing different positions, but I definitely was shocked at a couple of innings that we had where we struggled a little bit.”
While contemplating if Free State had done enough offensively to hang with O-East, Bermel thought first of the six stranded runners against the talented Stewart (83 strikeouts this season).
“Obviously, Allison’s a really good pitcher, and I think we kind of let that get into our heads,” Bermel said. “We got runners on base, but we didn’t just put it all together. We didn’t have timely hitting like we usually do, and that definitely had an effect on us.”
As if the five-run loss wasn’t enough, Free State trailed by four halfway through the first inning of the second game. After back-to-back singles and a one-out walk in the top of the first, McGhee stepped in with the bases loaded and cranked a grand slam.
Bermel had all three of the Firebirds’ hits off of McGhee before senior Remington Samuels and junior Paige Corcoran singled in the bottom of the seventh, helping FSHS avoid a shutout. The junior center fielder said she thought her team responded well, initially, to a four-run hole.
“I think we still had a little bit of drive, but then (in the sixth) they scored four more runs,” Bermel said, “and that’s when it kind of became disappointing.”
Olathe East 200 320 0 — 7 8 1
Free State 000 020 0 — 2 8 4
W — Allison Stewart, 10-0. L — Meredith Morris, 5-3.
2B — Emily Bermel (2), Whitney Rothwell, Lily Ross, FSHS. HR — Stewart, O-East.
FSHS highlights — Bermel, 4-for-4, R; Ross, 2-for-3, R; Rothwell, 1-for-3; Emily Byers, 0-for-3, RBI.
Olathe East 400 004 0 — 8 16 1
Free State 000 000 2 — 2 5 0
W — Hayley McGhee. L — Kaley Delg, 5-3.
2B — Elizabeth Leonard, O-East. 3B — Kaylee Byers, O-East. HR — McGhee, O-East.
FSHS highlights — Bermel, 3-for-4; Remington Samuels, 1-for-3, R; Page Corcoran, 1-for-3, R.