Bradford spins complete-game shutout to propel FSHS baseball past Olathe East

Free State starting pitcher Ethan Bradford (18) celebrates in midair with David Stuart after the Firebirds' win over Olathe East on Thursday, May 23, 2019 at Hoglund Ballpark.

The only thing that could have pulled Free State senior Ethan Bradford from the mound was his pitch count.

In the final inning, junior Camden Karlin started warming up in the bullpen at Hoglund Ballpark. The Firebirds wouldn’t need him. On the 103rd pitch of the contest, Bradford induced a fly ball to right where senior right fielder Jack Kallenberger slid under it to make the game-ending grab.

Bradford received multiple body bumps on his way back to the dugout, as his complete-game shutout lifted second-seeded Free State to a 2-0 win over No. 7 Olathe East in the opening round of the Class 6A state tournament Thursday night.

The performance came just days after he was named the Class 6A Pitcher of the Year as well as Sunflower League Pitcher of the Year, and he certainly justified both honors.

“I wanted to live up the hype, but it means nothing if we don’t win,” Bradford said. “My curveball was really looking good today. I thought I was throwing it a lot for strikes.”

Bradford’s final line was a thing of beauty. He allowed just five hits, including two in the final inning, against the only high school team in Kansas to beat Free State this year. Bradford struck out seven batters and walked two. He threw 60.2% of his 103 pitches for strikes over seven scoreless frames.

Just 24 hours earlier, however, Free State (20-3) wasn’t sure that Bradford was going to get the ball against the Hawks. At 2 a.m. Wednesday morning, Bradford started to get sick. He drank plenty of fluids and started to feel better, so he decided to attend practice. He then felt sick during his bullpen session in Wednesday’s practice, forcing him to go early.

“We didn’t even know this morning if he’d be able to go,” FSHS coach Mike Hill said. “He just dealt. He’s a tough kid and he showed it today.”

While Hill thought he might have to give Karlin the start, Bradford admitted that he never had a doubt he was going to get the ball. And that is because it is in his DNA.

“In 22 years here, he’s one of the most competitive kids I have been around,” Hill said. “He wants to be in that situation, and he wants the ball. That is what he demonstrated today.”

That competitive nature was on display throughout Bradford’s final game as a Firebird. Bradford retired the first eight Olathe East (15-8) batters he faced, striking out five of them. He then gave up a two-out single before inducing a groundout to senior first baseman Jake Baker to end the top of the third.

In the fourth, Bradford gave up a leadoff single that ricocheted off his ankle. Once again, Bradford was not going to be taken out of the contest. He warmed up with a few pitches before getting the next batter to ground into a double play to second baseman Creighton Cordova.

To end the frame, Kallenberger made a snag in right field to help Bradford strand two runners.

“When he’s on the mound, our mindset is to shut the other team out,” FSHS senior Jaxson Webb said. “He really pitches his best every single time he’s on the mound. We just feel fully confident when he’s on the mound.”

The Firebirds only had one run to show for their effort through four frames, despite loading the bases on three different occasions. Baker recorded a bases-loaded walk in the home half of the second to score Webb from third.

Webb eventually delivered the decisive blow with an RBI double in the fifth, which scored junior Colter Maldonado from second. It proved to be more than enough to help Bradford get the job done.

“With Ethan on the mound, one run is pretty much 10 runs. He’s a phenomenal pitcher,” Webb said. “No matter what he is doing, whether he’s playing video games or basketball against his little brother, he doesn’t want to lose. That’s the thing, he doesn’t want to lose.”

Free State will take on third-seeded Washburn Rural in the semifinals on Friday.

Olathe East 000 000 0 — 0 5 0

Free State 010 010 X — 2 2 0

WP — Ethan Bradford

Free State highlights: Ethan Bradford tosses complete-game shutout; Cam Karlin draws three walks; Jake Baker 1-for-2 RBI with two walks; Jaxson Webb 1-for-2 RBI.

Class 6A state baseball championship

First round results

Game 1: No. 1 Haysville-Campus 5, No. 8 Derby 1

Game 2: No. 4 Olathe Northwest 1, No. 5 Mill Valley 5

Game 3: No. 2 Free State 2, No. 7 Olathe East 0

Game 4: No. 3 Washburn Rural 5, No. 6 Blue Valley Northwest 2

Friday schedule

Game 1 of semifinals: No. 1 Haysville-Campus (21-2) vs. No. 5 Mill Valley (15-5), 10 a.m.

Game 2 of semifinals: No. 2 Free State (20-3) vs. No. 3 Washburn Rural (18-5), Approx. 25 min. after previous game

Championship game: Approx. 25 min. after previous game

Third-place game: Approx. 25 min. after previous game

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