Free State softball secures convincing 12-0 win over SM North in home opener

photo by: Chance Parker

Free State senior pitcher Tatum Clopton pitches the ball against Shawnee Mission North. Free State won 12-0 Thursday, April 1, 2021.

Free State softball star Tatum Clopton could count on her fingers how many pitches it took her to strike out all three of Shawnee Mission North’s batters in the top of the third inning on Thursday: nine.

And in fact, she did count them on her fingers on the walk back to the dugout, holding nine fingers triumphantly in the air.

“They are few and far between,” Clopton said of her nine-pitch, three-strikeout inning. “Each one is cherished.”

That immaculate inning exemplified Free State’s dominance during Thursday’s home opener. The Firebirds, who are two-time state champions, needed just 4.5 innings to earn their 12-0 victory.

While the Firebirds (2-0) were already leading 6-0 at the top of the third, it was then that Clopton’s show really began. The two-time Gatorade Kansas Player of the Year, who is signed to pitch at Oklahoma State next year, began the frame with back-to-back called strikes before getting Aliviah Fisher to whiff on the third pitch.

Clopton forced four more swinging strikes over the next two batters, getting both Rilee Bell and Rilee Morrow to go down hacking in their first and only at-bats of the game.

“I knew when I was running off it was nine,” Clopton said. “It was really exciting; other people said some things. I just walked in there with nine on my fingers, and enjoyed it for the moment.”

Senior catcher Georgia Rea, who was on the receiving end of that perfect inning, said it was business as usual for Clopton.

“I was like, ‘I felt some breeze back there from all the whiffs,'” Rea said. “(That’s) nothing new for her.”

Clopton was dialed in for more than just that particular inning, however. She ended the second with a strikeout and started the fourth with two more strikes for a stretch of 12 consecutive strikes that were either called or swinging.

For the game, Clopton struck out eight batters and only allowed two baserunners over five innings. She retired the first 11 Shawnee Mission North players before surrendering a two-out walk in the fourth.

Clopton also gave up a hit in the fifth before ending the lopsided win with one final strikeout during Free State’s first home game since 2019.

“I was definitely in the zone,” Clopton said. “It felt good to be in the zone. It’s been a while since we have been there.”

As dominant as Clopton’s pitching was, Free State’s offense was just as overwhelming.

The Firebirds came out scorching hot with their bats, scoring six runs on seven hits in the first inning. Every player in the starting lineup earned a trip to the plate, but it was the top of the order that really set the tone.

Rea, who went 0-for-4 during Free State’s 10-2 season-opening win over Olathe Northwest, started the game off with a triple to center for her first hit of the season. The Western Illinois University signee screamed in celebration while standing on third base.

“I was so happy, mostly because that was my first at-bat at home,” Rea said. “We talked about it before the game — coming out and getting fired up and getting on them quick, then shutting them down so that we can leave in four innings.”

That’s exactly what the Firebirds did, as the next three batters delivered extra-base hits. Junior Jasmine Brixius had a double, and Sara Roszak had a triple. Clopton then added another double from her No. 4 spot in the lineup.

One batter later, junior first baseman McKenzie Marcum kept the hit streak alive with an RBI single. Senior third baseman Robin Todd later added an RBI triple, capping off the six-run start by the hosts.

“When you score six in the first, that makes a lot of difference,” FSHS head coach Lee Ice said. “Especially when you have a pitcher like we have on the mound. When she’s in the circle, and you get a six-run lead, she’s just got to throw strikes.”

Free State wasn’t satisfied with just a strong start, either. The Firebirds added three more runs in the bottom of the third, highlighted by a two-run triple from Rea. Brixius also delivered an RBI single during that frame.

Roszak, who is signed to play softball for the University of Kansas, started off the fourth frame with a solo shot on a pitch she clobbered over the left field fence. Later in the inning, Kinsey Clopton came through with an RBI triple before Todd drove in the last run on a base knock.

Thursday’s win was an impressive all-around performance by the Firebirds, showing that Free State’s offense can get hot in a hurry and that the pitching continues to be perfect.

“Anytime you can get your bats out early, it sends a message to the other team,” Clopton said. “It just adds to the ambiance in the dugout, and that builds and builds. That’s how you win games; you just have to keep attacking and getting better every single inning.”

Free State will travel to Olathe South at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Free State 12, Shawnee Mission North 0

SMN 0 0 0 0 0 X X — 0 runs 1 hit 1 error

FSHS 6 0 3 3 X X X — 12 runs 15 hits 0 errors

WP — Tatum Clopton 5 IP, 0R 1H 8K 1BB.

Hitting highlights: Georgia Rea 2-for-3, 2 3B, 2 RBI; Jasmine Brixius 3-for-3, 2 2B, 2 RBI; Sara Roszak 2-for-3, 3B, HR, 2 RBI; Robin Todd 3-for-3, 3B, 2 RBI.

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