Behind pivotal first inning, FSHS baseball defeats LHS in City Showdown

photo by: Carter Gaskins

Free State senior Jake Baker (20) slides into home plate as LHS catcher Ryan Lauts (20) tries to tag him out Friday night at Hoglund Ballpark on May 10, 2019.

On the surface, there wasn’t a lot on the line in the latest installment of the City Showdown.

That didn’t seem to matter when Free State and Lawrence High took the field Friday night at Hoglund Ballpark, however. FSHS struck first with three runs in the opening frame, but had to stave off multiple rally attempts by LHS in an eventual 3-1 win.

“To us players, it is one of the biggest games of the year,” Free State senior Peyton Sparks said. “Today, the adrenaline was rushing and we just wanted to play. It was good to get a lead early and keep the lead.”

Both teams flashed potential Friday night, even if only one is heading into the postseason with a win in the regular-season finale.

Despite playing for the first time in eight days, the Firebirds (17-3, No. 1 in Class 6A) shook off any rust with three crucial runs in the first inning off Lawrence’s freshman starting pitcher Grant Cleavinger.

Junior Camden Karlin started things off with an infield single and senior Creighton Cordova was hit by a pitch one batter later. Senior Jake Baker loaded the bases up with a single to left before Sparks drove in two runs with a base knock. Junior Colter Maldonado later delivered a sacrifice fly.

“It is important in a game like this to get the lead and play with a lead,” FSHS head coach Mike Hill said. “I was pleased with our approach in the first inning. We didn’t necessarily sustain it after the first.”

Lawrence (14-6, No. 4 in Class 6A) immediately stole a run back in the bottom of the first, which was credit to brilliant base running by sophomore Devin Neal.

After an infield single to lead things off, Neal eventually swiped second and third to manufacture a run. Senior Hank Dobson drove him in with an infield single. The Lions never scored again, though they had multiple opportunities before the end of the night.

Caleb Mondi, Ryan Lauts and Neal all managed to draw walks to load the bases in the home half of the second, but a fly out halted that threat. Dobson (single) and Preston Harris (walk) were then left stranded in the third.

“You can’t get behind to the No. 1 team in the state,” LHS head coach Brad Stoll said. “We just dug ourselves a whole that we couldn’t get out of.”

The fact that the Lions even had a chance late was a testament to Jake Miller’s performance on the mound. The junior hurler entered in the second frame and immediately stymied Free State’s bats, giving up only one hit and striking out three batters over five innings. Dobson allowed one hit in the seventh.

Free State senior Ethan Bradford, meanwhile, labored through four innings. The Nebraska signee allowed one run off three hits, striking out six batters and walking five. Karlin tossed three innings of relief, surrendering a pair of hits.

“(Bradford) was not himself tonight at all and that happens,” Hill said. “What I was proud of was that he still found a way to give us four (innings) and only give up one (run).”

In the end, though, both squads have to like where they are at heading into the postseason. Both FSHS and LHS will host regionals, which is slated for Thursday, with the hope of returning to Hoglund Ballpark for the state tournament.

Free State, which is the No. 2 seed in 6A West, will face the winner of the play-in game between No. 15 Hutchinson and No. 18 Wichita South at 2 p.m. Thursday. Third-seeded Lawrence will take on No. 14 Wichita North at 3:30 p.m. Thursday.

“You don’t want to lose to your crosstown rival, I understand that,” Stoll said. “But nobody is going to care about this game in two weeks if we are playing up here in the state tournament. That’s our goal.”

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