After lineup change, Kay Lee Richardson providing record-setting year for FSHS softball

photo by: Carter Gaskins

Free State teammates celebrate Kay Lee Richardson's (46) home run during a game on Friday, April 12, 2019, at Lawrence High School.

This time last year, Free State slugger Kay Lee Richardson was watching from the crowd.

Richardson, who was in the eighth grade a year ago, watched from the seats in Arrocha Ballpark as FSHS softball made history by claiming its first-ever state title. The Firebirds stormed through the Class 6A bracket as an eighth seed en route to three wins.

“It was excitement,” Richardson said of watching state last year. “They are good players, and I get to be around that.”

Fast forward one year, and Richardson will be a key factor in Free State trying to defend its crown.

Second-seeded Free State (20-2) will take on No. 7 Olathe Northwest in the opening round of this year’s Class 6A state tournament. The game is slated to begin at 3 p.m. Thursday at Arrocha Ballpark.

It is a rematch of last year’s state championship game, but it is also a fitting way for Richardson to make her state tourney debut. In fact, Olathe Northwest was the very same opponent she faced in the season opener when Richardson was thrust into the lineup as the team’s cleanup hitter.

Richardson found out just before the first game of the year that she would be batting in the fourth spot. Richardson struggled in her debut, striking out four times against a pitcher that attacked her with changeups.

“I was really nervous and I was in my head a lot,” Richardson said. “It was nerve racking, to be honest. I didn’t have time to process.”

Richardson has since moved back in the lineup, batting in the sixth spot on a consistent basis. It has made her more comfortable, and Richardson has demonstrated the power that made FSHS head coach Lee Ice consider her in the cleanup spot in the first place.

“It was unfair of me to put her in that spot as a freshman,” Ice said. “We moved her back in the lineup, and she has just flourished from there.”

In just one season, Richardson has etched her name into the record books. She has clubbed nine home runs and drove in 37 batters, both of which are team records. In 62 at-bats, Richardson has a .419 batting average.

Over half of Richardson’s 26 hits have been for extra bases. She also has five doubles and one triple during her rookie campaign.

“She’s that type of kid that is going to get people in,” Ice said. “The power in her was evident from the get-go with the bat speed. She’s just going to get stronger.”

Richardson still has to work on some things to become a complete hitter, but her presence has been evident on well-rounded Free State lineup.

Georgia Rea, Jasmine Brixius, Sara Roszak and Maci Miles are all hitting at least .400 in four of the five spots ahead of Richardson in the lineup. Tatum Clopton, the team’s No. 3 hitter, is hitting .340 and has been walked 23 times. Lauryn Jones, who bats behind Richardson, also has an average north of .300.

As a team, the Firebirds average 9.2 runs per game to provide plenty of support for Clopton, who has already thrown five perfect games in her sophomore season.

“It really is tough to pitch around us now,” Ice said.

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