FSHS baseball looking for different result in rematch with Olathe East

photo by: Carter Gaskins

Free State's baseball team huddles up during the City Showdown Friday night at Hoglund Ballpark on May 10, 2019.

There will be no surprises when Free State and Olathe East square off in the opening round of the Class 6A state baseball tournament.

Both teams know what to expect when they take the field Thursday afternoon at Hoglund Ballpark. The clash between a pair of Sunflower League foes figures to be a low-scoring game that features a pair of talented starting pitchers.

At least that was the case in the regular-season meeting, when Olathe East recorded a 5-3 win over FSHS on April 25.

“They are a good ball team,” FSHS coach Mike Hill said. “We have our hands full right out of the chute, that’s the way it should be in the state tournament. It is a tough matchup for us. But I’m sure they would say that with our pitching it is a tough matchup for them.”

FSHS, which is the No. 2 seed in the Class 6A bracket, has been considered the No. 1 team in its class for many weeks by the Kansas Association of Baseball Coaches. The Firebirds (19-3) have only lost to one team in their state, with their other two defeats coming at the hands of Missouri foes at the start of the season.

Olathe East, the No. 7 seed in this year’s state tournament, ended Free State’s 14-game game win streak in the first meeting between these two teams. FSHS has since won six games in a row.

In the regular-season affair, the Hawks (15-7) never trailed after scoring a run in the bottom of the first. They ended up pulling away with three runs in the fifth to provide enough support for Grant Strong, who tossed four innings of one-run ball. It is one of the four times this year that FSHS has allowed more than two runs in a game.

“We saw good pitching and we did not play very well,” junior Camden Karlin said. “We struck out a lot last time. We just need to put the ball in play, hopefully find some holes and just put pressure on the defense to make them make plays.”

Free State has the ability to turn things around in the rematch with a trip to the semifinals on the line.

For starters, senior Ethan Bradford did not pitch that game and the team’s No. 1 starter has been tremendous all spring. Bradford, a Nebraska signee, was recently named the Class 6A Pitcher of the Year and the Sunflower League Pitcher of the Year.

This season, Bradford has allowed five earned runs over a total of 55 innings. He’s appeared in 13 games, including seven starts, and struck out 74 batters compared to 23 walks. Karlin and junior David Stuart have also helped form a formidable rotation that has silenced opposing bats for much of the spring.

“We are going to have to be sharp on the mound,” Hill said. “The (bracket) is as strong as I’ve seen it in years. (Olathe) East is the seventh seed, for crying out loud. Pitching is such a huge part of it. Every team here is really good.”

Of course, the Firebirds know better than anyone that anything can happen in a single-elimination tournament.

Just last week, FSHS needed extra innings to avoid an upset against Hutchinson in the regional semifinals. Seniors Jake Baker and Jack Kallenberger came through with clutch hits after the hosts surrendered a 9-3 lead in the top of the seventh.

It is why the Firebirds won’t allow themselves to look ahead in what is a tough 6A bracket. They are focused on taking care of business against an all-too familiar foe after a first-round exit in the state tournament last spring.

“Hopefully we can do better than we did last year,” Karlin said. “It is going to be a tough matchup, but we are excited for it.”

Due to forecasted rain, the 6A state baseball tournament will try to move quickly both days. Each game is slated to start approximately 25 minutes after the previous contest has been completed.

Free State’s opening-round tilt with Olathe East is the third game scheduled on Thursday. The first game, which is between No. 1 Campus and No. 8 Derby, will begin at 11 a.m. at Hoglund Ballpark.

Class 6A state baseball championship

Thursday schedule

Game 1: No. 1 Haysville-Campus (20-2) vs. No. 8 Derby (11-9), 11 a.m.

Game 2: No. 4 Olathe Northwest (17-5) vs. No. 5 Mill Valley (14-5)

Game 3: No. 2 Free State (19-3) vs. No. 7 Olathe East (15-7)

Game 4: No. 3 Washburn Rural (17-5) vs. No. 6 Blue Valley Northwest (16-6)


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