FSHS baseball surrenders late lead in 8-6 loss to Olathe North
After scoring five runs in the fifth inning, Free State High School’s baseball team seemed to be surging past Olathe North on Tuesday night.
But over the next two innings, Olathe North’s Eagles did one better: They scored six.
“Credit to Olathe North, they earned it,” FSHS head coach Mike Hill said after the 8-6 defeat. “They bashed the ball around there the last couple of innings, and had a little desire about them and made things happen.”
The Eagles’ surge was impressive, with six runs on seven hits (four extra-base hits). But at the same time, the Firebirds (4-3) are aware that they probably let one slip away.
Free State had a 6-2 lead entering the sixth inning and had its two best pitchers slated to close things out. Junior Maddox Burkitt, who got the start, was given the sixth frame before turning it over to fellow starting pitcher Michael Uhler in the seventh.
It was an ideal setup for the Firebirds, but things began to unravel in the sixth. Burkitt, who had been in the zone through five innings, gave up a leadoff single to the No. 2 hitter followed by an RBI triple to the third.
Olathe North plated two more runs before the end of the frame, both on RBI groundouts. Burkitt finished the game with six strikeouts across six innings of five-run ball, though a majority of that damage came in his final frame.
“I just lost a little bit of the command,” said Burkitt, who actually began the game with three strikeouts in the first. “I just have to be better at spotting pitches and getting ground balls for my guys.”
Free State still had a chance to wrap up a victory in the seventh, when Uhler got his chance to take the mound. Because his bullpen session would have been Tuesday or Wednesday, it made sense to trot out Uhler, who is slated to start Thursday, with FSHS clinging to a 6-5 lead.
“You always feel good with Michael on the mound,” Hill said. “You have to credit your opponent in this case; they hit the ball.”
After a leadoff strikeout to the No. 9 hitter, the Eagles started squaring the ball up on a windy evening. Olathe North senior Nyle Banks delivered a triple and later scored the game-tying run on an RBI single from senior Mario Sanchez on a ball that just got over FSHS third baseman Grant Gregory.
FSHS misplayed another hard-hit ball one batter later, and the inning took a turn for the worse. Senior Carson Smith came through with a two-run triple to seal the deal for the visitors.
“There were a couple plays there in the (seventh) that we weren’t able to make,” Hill said. “You need someone in those situations to step up, and the kids are fighting. It’s going to happen. It’s a process.”
Free State had a decent chance to deliver in the seventh, with the heart of the lineup having the honors to close it out. Burkitt worked a one-out walk, but a game-ending double play served as the final dagger.
“We just have to be better,” Burkitt said. “One of us has to step up, and get things done. That last inning came, and we just didn’t get it done.”
The Firebirds certainly got things done in the fifth, when they scored five runs on four hits and batted all the way around the lineup against Olathe North’s first relief pitcher.
Senior Drew Bradford, who came through with two RBIs on as many hits, drove in the go-ahead run with a single to center. Burkitt followed suit with an RBI double on his lone hit for the game from the cleanup spot in the lineup.
Sophomore Brady Kern later brought in a run after being hit by a pitch with the bases loaded. Harrison Juhl capped off the exciting inning with a two-run single. Senior catcher Matt Gabriel also recorded a delayed steal during that frame.
“It was the only inning, quite frankly, that we put pressure on them defensively,” Hill said. “So many of our outs were either strikeouts or pop-ups, and there is no pressure on the defense. In the fifth there, we hit several line drives and ground balls and put pressure on the defense.”
“We only had one proficient inning offensively,” Hill added. “Ultimately, on a day where it’s a day to hit, I think that was a big contributor to ultimately us not being successful.”
Free State will host Shawnee Mission Northwest at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.
Olathe North 8, Free State 6
ONHS 0 1 0 0 1 3 3 — 8 11 1
FSHS 1 0 0 0 5 0 0 — 6 4 1
LP — Maddox Burkitt 6 IP, 5R 8H 6K 1BB
Hitting highlights: 2-for-3, 2 RBI, 2B; Maddox Burkitt RBI 2B; Harrison Juhl 2RBI 1B.