Free State baseball gets on roll offensively during 9-4 win over Belton

photo by: Shane Jackson

Free State junior Maddox Burkitt takes off for second base during a game against Belton Friday night at FSHS on April 23, 2021.

In its 9-2 home victory over Belton on Friday night, the Free State baseball team was scoreless for the first two innings — but then the floodgates opened.

The Firebirds (7-7) erased an early 3-0 deficit, scoring multiple runs in four consecutive frames to notch their second straight win. Friday was also the second straight day that FSHS scored nine runs; it beat Topeka Hayden 9-2 on Thursday in the first game of the River City Baseball Festival.

“We kind of took those first two innings to figure things out,” sophomore shortstop Brady Kern said after Friday’s win. “All it took was one to get a timely hit, and we broke through.”

Kern had the honor of getting the first base hit for the Firebirds. And it was a big one.

He came through in a big way during his second trip to the plate. After senior Drew Bradford and junior Maddox Burkitt reached by error, Kern slapped a one-out single up the middle to score both of them and cut the deficit to 3-2.

“Timely hitting with runners in scoring position has been a struggle all year,” Kern said. “We found that (today).”

They’d been trying to find it for a couple of innings. Free State loaded the bases in the bottom of the first after Belton had already grabbed a 1-0 lead. All three runners — Joey Wood, Bradford and Harrison Juhl — reached via walks. But the other three Free State batters, including Kern, struck out.

photo by: Shane Jackson

Free State junior Calvin Urish waits for a pitch during a game against Belton Friday night at FSHS on April 23, 2021.

photo by: Shane Jackson

Free State junior Maddox Burkitt completes a putout during a game against Belton Friday night at FSHS on April 23, 2021.

One inning later, seniors Gage Callaghan and Ben Stallard both got on base with one-out walks. Wood eventually lined out to the opposing second baseman, who made a lunging snap, to end any sort of threat in the bottom of the second.

“We just needed that big hit to push us through,” Bradford said. “It was full speed ahead after that.”

That it was.

Free State scored three runs in the fourth to grab a lead that it wouldn’t relinquish. Bradford delivered the go-ahead single, driving in two runs with his base hit up the middle. Burkitt followed suit with an RBI base knock one batter later.

“Hitting is contagious,” FSHS head coach Mike Hill said. “I thought we had some nice at-bats; we had a lot of opportunities given to us today too.”

The Firebirds kept it rolling after the fourth. They scored two runs in the fifth, one of which came on an RBI single from junior Calvin Urish.

Free State tacked on two more runs in the sixth for good measure. Kern plated a run on a groundout, and junior Grant Gregory brought home the final run on a base hit. Free State finished with six hits as a team, most of which came when it needed them the most.

“When you put the ball in play, good things will happen for you more often than not,” Hill said. “We had some good at-bats with guys in scoring position.”

The Firebirds have now scored nine or more runs in three of their last four games.

“Offensively, we are starting to figure things out,” Kern said. “We are starting to find it. It all starts in practice, and we’ve been doing a great job of getting things done.”

Free State’s pitching staff limited Belton to four runs. Senior Alex Carrillo got the starting nod but was pulled in the third. Sophomore Tyler Vigna and junior William Dawson then recorded big outs before handing the ball to Burkitt over the final two frames.

There were also a couple of memorable defensive plays by FSHS. Kern made a nifty putout defensively during the fourth, in which he had to spin before firing the ball to first base. During the fifth, Callaghan fired a ball to third base on the money to get the lead runner out.

“It felt good, finally getting two in a row,” Bradford said. “We just need to keep rolling.”

Free State will face Raymore-Peculiar at 11:15 a.m. Saturday at Hoglund Ballpark.

photo by: Shane Jackson

Free State senior Alex Carrillo fires a pitch during a game against Belton Friday night at FSHS on April 23, 2021.

Free State 9, Belton 4

BLT 1 0 2 0 1 0 0 — 4 4 2

FSHS 0 0 2 3 2 2 X — 9 6 5


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