Firebird softball tumbles

? Free State High softball seniors Remington Samuels, Courtney Elston, Meredith Morris and Whitney Rothwell stood in Washburn Rural’s right field Wednesday evening, arm in arm, trying not to cry too much.

A year ago, their season didn’t end until the first round of the Class 6A state tournament, and the Firebirds planned on a return trip this spring. But FSHS only had one late-inning comeback in it at Rural’s four-team regional tournament. The Junior Blues ended Free State’s season, 9-2, hours after an incredible Firebirds rally beat Olathe North, 4-3, on the same field.

“We know what it takes to get to state,” senior first baseman Rothwell said, “and it’s really heartbreaking to not get there again.”

FSHS led Rural, 2-1, after Rothwell and sophomore Paige Corcoran delivered RBI singles in the top of the third. But the state-bound Junior Blues (20-2) responded in a fashion Firebirds coach Lee Ice had seen before.

“What’s been haunting us all season long is that third or fourth inning — the middle innings when we’ve been giving up a big crooked number, three or four runs,” Ice explained. “It happened again today.”

Rural’s biggest inning against the underdogs came in the third, when the Firebirds (12-10) committed two errors, directly leading to three of four WRHS runs.

While another FSHS runner never crossed home plate against senior pitcher Kelsee Henry — seven innings, seven hits, nine strikeouts and one walk — Rural added two runs in the fifth (one coming on an error) and two more for good measure in the sixth, when Savannah Morre led off with a home run.

The way the regional opener had gone for Free State, a championship-game appearance seemed like a dream as late as the bottom of the seventh inning against O-North.

After taking a 1-0 lead in the first on Rothwell’s sacrifice fly, the Firebirds went scoreless for five straight innings, and they had as much to do with it as the Eagles (10-11). Base-running miscues in the third, fourth and sixth innings led to four O-North put-outs, killing any hope for Free State to build momentum, and the Firebirds trailed, 3-1, with one out left.

Remarkably, FSHS plated three two-out runs to survive, capped by Elston’s RBI, walk-off single. The senior designated player stepped into the batter’s box against O-North junior pitcher Kaitlynn Usdansky with two outs and the bases loaded in a tie game following three consecutive singles from teammates Morris, Samuels and Corcoran.

“I knew I was gonna score (Morris). I just knew,” Elston said after the clutch base hit up the middle. “I kept fighting the outside off. I wasn’t gonna let (Usdansky) beat me. I was really glad to be in that position with two outs.”

She had that chance after Emily Bermel led off the inning by grounding to shortstop and reaching second base on a throwing error. Next, Kylie Cobb zoomed down the line for an infield single to put FSHS in business.

After Emily Byers grounded out and moved Cobb into scoring position, Usdansky retired the next two Firebirds batters.

But Morris came up ready to tie the game with a base hit. She stayed back on the pitches she saw and knocked a single to right field, just where it needed to go.

“You can’t let the pressure get to you, especially when you have two outs,” the senior said, “because that’s not gonna be in your favor at all.”

Free State 4, O-North 3

O-North 002 010 0 — 3 7 3

Free State 100 000 3 — 4 11 2

W — Meredith Morris, 6-5. L — Kaitlynn Usdansky.

2B — Kayla Peak, O-North.

FSHS highlights — Meredith Morris, 3-for-4, 2 RBIs, R; Kylie Cobb, 3-for-4, 2 Rs; Emily Byers, 2-for-3; Courtney Elston, 1-for-3, RBI; Remington Samuels, 1-for-3; Paige Corcoran, 1-for-1; Emily Bermel, 0-for-3, R; Whitney Rothwell, 0-for-3, RBI.

Washburn Rural 9, Free State 2

Free State 002 000 0 — 2 7 3

Washburn Rural 104 022 x — 9 12 2

W — Kelsee Henry. L — Kaley Delg, 6-5.

2B — Abby Snow, Jenny Metzger, WRHS. HR — Savannah Morre, WRHS.

FSHS highlights — Morris, 3-for-3; Corcoran, 1-for-3, RBI; Samuels, 1-for-3; Rothwell, 1-for-4, RBI; Byers, 1-for-4.