Free State’s pitching depth on display in 7-1 win over Leavenworth

Free State senior Jake Zenger throws a pitch during a game against Leavenworth Saturday afternoon at Hoglund Ballpark on April 20, 2019.

Senior Jake Zenger started playing catch when Free State’s baseball team arrived at Hoglund Ballpark at 9 a.m. Saturday. His coaching staff eventually had to tell him to stop in order to save his arm.

Zenger then started warming up at 10:35 a.m., which was 40 minutes before he fired the first pitch of the contest. In Zenger’s defense, he hadn’t started in a game in two years and wasn’t quite sure how to go about his pregame routine.

Once he took the mound, though, it was business as usual. The sidearm hurler baffled Leavenworth batters to help Free State claim a 7-1 win Saturday during the 18th annual River City Festival.

“I just had to take advantage of my opportunity,” Zenger said. “It was pretty sweet to get back on the mound. It was just an awesome time.”

Free State senior Jack Kallenberger swings at a pitch during a game against Leavenworth Saturday afternoon at Hoglund Ballpark on April 20, 2019.

The Firebirds (13-2, No. 1 in Class 6A) won all three games of the River City Festival, pushing their win streak to 13 consecutive contests. During this 13-game run, FSHS has allowed a total of 12 runs over 93 combined innings.

But the team’s latest win was an example of how absurdly deep Free State’s pitching staff could be. Zenger tossed four shutout innings before handing it to the bullpen. Zach Thornton allowed one unearned run over two frames. Michael Uhler pitched a clean seventh, throwing 10 pitches.

In total, the trio allowed one unearned run off three total hits with nine combined strikeouts. Entering Saturday, those three pitchers had thrown a combined 5 2/3 innings over the previous 12 games.

“We threw three guys today that we think are good pitchers,” FSHS coach Mike Hill said. “Because we play baseball in Kansas, we only get to play 20 games spread out over eight weeks. You don’t necessarily get to develop the kind of depth that you want. We threw three guys that had a combined six or seven innings all year and I thought they were terrific.”

Junior shortstop Colter Maldonado throws a ball to senior first baseman Jake Baker during a game against Leavenworth Saturday afternoon at Hoglund Ballpark on April 20, 2019.

Zenger threw a total of 55 pitches in his first start of the year, recording 40 strikes. He struck out seven batters without walking one Leavenworth foe, allowing three hits in the process.

“We are on a big win streak, and you don’t want to be the guy that lets them down,” Zenger said. “I was living low with the fastball. If I throw first-pitch strikes, I get to throw my slider. I just love doing that.”

Zenger was gifted an early advantage, too. The Firebirds scored two runs in the bottom of the first off an RBI single from senior Jack Kallenberger. Senior Peyton Sparks drove in another run off a base-loaded walk.

Kallenberger came through with a two-run triple in the bottom of the second to give FSHS a 4-0 advantage. Junior Colter Maldonado recorded an RBI double in the fourth, and senior Jaxson Webb followed suit with a two-run double. Seniors Jake Baker and Creighton Cordova each collected two hits as well.

“Every time we put runs on the board, we feel confident we can win a game with our staff,” Kallenberger said. “They are very good.”

Free State will travel to Olathe West at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

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