Highlight plays not enough for Firebirds baseball in loss

FSHS senior Ryan Cantrell (5) sets to put the tag on Olathe North's Chaz Burgess on Tuesday, May 6, 2014, at Free State.

Free State shortstop Cooper Karlin eyes a grounder hit by Olathe North on Tuesday, May 6, 2014, at FSHS.

Free State High baseball seniors Tyler Walmsley, Zach Bickling and Ryan Cantrell jammed a week’s worth of highlights into the final two innings of Tuesday evening’s home baseball game, but it wasn’t quite enough for the Firebirds to prevail.

Olathe North defeated Free State, 7-6, in eight innings after the Firebirds’ five-run, two-out rally in the seventh forced the extra inning.

Free State batted around in a seventh inning that started with shortstop Cooper Karlin wearing a wayward pitch to take first base. He scored from first when the O-North left fielder misplayed Casey Hearnen’s base hit.

Walmsley, who earlier had reached on two walks and a hit-by-pitch, drove in a run in the seventh with a single to left. Bickling sent him home with a monster double to left, and after Jacob Pavlyak (2-for-3, RBI) walked, and pinch runner Zion Bowlin stole second, Cantrell came to the plate with a runner on third and the tying run at second.

Minds in the crowd that had wandered in the earlier innings when the Firebirds played atypically poor defense and couldn’t deliver the clutch hit, focused on the hitter at the plate.

Cantrell worked the count to 2-2. Tension mounted in the stands, and the words of his veteran coach, Mike Hill, played in his head.

“Coach has been teaching us the two-strike approach — you’ve got to fight; even if it’s close, don’t let the umpire ring you up,” Cantrell said. “The pitch was up, but I didn’t want to take a chance.”

So he offered at it and dropped it near the left-field line to plate two runs and tie the score, 6-6.

As timely and dramatic as their seventh-inning hits were, Bickling, Cantrell and Walmsley outdid themselves in the top of the eighth, combining for the play of the day, one that required perfection from all three direct participants and strong communication from elsewhere to cut down a run at the plate.

Olathe North’s Matt Wright crushed one into the right-field corner. Bickling cut a nice angle on it, dug it out quickly and showcased a powerful arm, hitting Cantrell with a perfect throw. Wasting no motion, Cantrell zipped a beauty to Walmsley for the tag. The bang-bang call went the way of the Firebirds for the second out of the inning. Wright advanced to third on the throw and scored the winning run on a pitch in the dirt.

“My job is to get the throw and get rid of it as fast as I can,” Cantrell said. “First of all, it was a great throw by Zach Bickling. He had a great throw to me, and then I had guys telling me where to throw it. I put a good throw to Ty, and he made a great play at home.”

Said Bickling: “Cantrell made a great throw, right on the dot. It was awesome.”

That it was, but missed opportunities at the plate early for the Firebirds (10-7), combined with Olathe North (5-11) cashing in on chances given them by defensive shortcomings, proved too much to overcome.

Olathe North 100 221 01 — 7 9 1

Free State 000 001 50 — 6 6 3

W –Caleb Underwood (1-1). L — Trevor Munch (0-1)

FSHS highlights — Jacob Pavlyak (2 for 3, walk, RBI), Tyler Walmsley (reached base all four plate appearances, drove in a run).

FSHS record — 10-7. Next for FSHS — 4:30 p.m. Thursday at Shawnee Mission South.