Free State baseball returns to state tournament with two contrasting wins
photo by: Carter Gaskins
Once junior Colter Maldonado reached first base safely, Free State’s baseball team rushed the field.
A brief dogpile took place just beyond first base, as Free State finished off a crucial sweep Thursday night with a 10-0 run-rule victory over Wichita West in the regional championship game. It came after an 11-10 extra-inning win over Hutchinson in the regional semifinals at FSHS.
The Firebirds (19-3) celebrated by taking pictures with their championship plaque, which was their well-deserved prize for punching a ticket to the 6A state tournament for the second year in a row.
“It feels great to be going back,” senior Jack Kallenberger said. “We went out in the first round last year. For us to get another opportunity, it is going to be awesome.”
But it was a scene that seemed bleak just mere hours earlier.
Free State, the No. 2 seed in 6A West, needed extra innings after faltering late to avoid an upset by No. 15 Hutchinson in the regional semifinals. The Firebirds, who are the top-ranked team in Class 6A, surrendered a six-run lead in the final inning to set the stage for some postseason theatrics.
Senior starter Ethan Bradford labored through six innings, allowing one earned run, before turning it over to the bullpen. With a 9-3 advantage in the top of the seventh, FSHS turned to a trio of relievers — Jake Zenger, Michael Uhler and David Stuart — that allowed Hutchinson to storm back and take a 10-9 advantage.
“We talked all week about adversity and how to handle adversity,” FSHS coach Mike Hill said. “When you get to tournaments like this, something bad is going to happen. It did and we kept our composure.”
photo by: Carter Gaskins
Senior Jake Baker began the rally with a one-out single, though the Salthawks immediately recorded a second out. On the brink of elimination, Kallenberger stepped to the dish. Two of his previous three at-bats ended with hard-hit balls that were caught at the warning track.
“My main thought going up there was that I don’t want this to be my last at-bat,” Kallenberger said. “I just wanted to do whatever I could to keep us in the game.”
Kallenberger hit a line drive to right-center, where Hutchinson made a play to snag the ball with the edge of his glove. As he tumbled to the turf, however, the ball fell out and Baker came around to score the game-tying run on the double.
It was not until the bottom of the ninth that the Firebirds finished things off. Kallenberger drew a bases-loaded walk to cap an 11-10 victory. Afterward, Hill ducked into the locker room and told his team it was “just like they drew it up.”
“I think I talked to them for 10 seconds,” Hill said. “It was a joke to lighten the mood. They got themselves ready.”
That they did. Free State took care of business with a state berth on the line. Junior Camden Karlin spun five shutout innings, allowing just one hit. He struck out six batters to set the tone with dominant pitching.
Kallenberger gifted FSHS an early 1-0 advantage with an RBI single in the first. Creighton Cordova (double) and Baker (single) each drove in a run in the second.
FSHS finished things off with five runs in the fifth, which included an RBI double from senior Cole Burenheide. Senior Mitchell Clark and Cordova both drove in a run with a base knock as well.
“We played with no fear,” Kallenberger said. “Everything we did, ever pitch and every at-bat, we just played with no fear. We just really wanted to win.”
Hutchinson 000 210 700 — 10 9 3
Free State 120 501 101 — 11 11 2
WP — David Stuart
Free State highlights: Ethan Bradford allowed one earned run over six innings; Cole Burenheide, 2-for-4 RBI; Camden Karlin 2-for-4; Jack Kallenberger, game-tying double and game-winning RBI walk.
Wichita W 000 00X X — 0 1 5
Free State 320 05X X — 10 7 2
WP — Camden Karlin
Free State highlights: Camden Karlin tossed five shutout innings; Cole Burenheide RBI double; Creighton Cordova 2-for-3 2 RBIs; Mitchell Clark 2-for-2 RBI.