Leah Mueller’s big day leads FSHS softball to 7-0 win over Olathe East
photo by: Chance Parker
In Free State’s 7-0 victory over Olathe East on Thursday night, the Firebirds got a rare surprise — a game that lasted all seven innings.
The Firebirds, who have run-ruled plenty of opponents this season, went the distance on Thursday — although, being the home team, they didn’t have to play the bottom of the seventh. Head coach Lee Ice said he appreciated that his team got a bit more of a workout.
“We’ve been averaging about 5 1/3 (innings) for the 11 games we’ve played,” Ice said. “It was nice to get the full seven innings.”
He said that the experience was “something we need more of once we get to the five postseason games.”
Free State got some practice in another key skill, as well: finding a way to win when its offense was less explosive than usual.
Since its loss to Washburn Rural on April 16 — another rare seven-inning game — Free State (11-1) had scored double-digit runs in four consecutive games: 27-5 against Lansing in three innings, 22-0 against Mill Valley in three innings, 15-0 against Shawnee Mission West in four innings, and 13-0 against Gardner Edgerton in five innings.
After FSHS’ lopsided games against those other teams, “Olathe East did a good job,” Ice said. “The pitcher actually pitched; she didn’t throw. We didn’t square it up as good as we have been.”
But even though the numbers weren’t as big, the game was never really in doubt. Senior Tatum Clopton gave FSHS a 2-0 lead in the first on a two-run blast to left, and Free State added one run in the second, two in the third and two more in the fifth.
In the circle, Clopton only gave up one hit and allowed two base runners all game while striking out 13 Olathe East batters.
“Tatum pitched well,” Ice said. “Then we got a couple key home runs with people on base. We swung it pretty good.”
Sophomore center fielder Leah Mueller was a big reason why the Firebirds had some breathing room on a night when they weren’t as overwhelming as normal. She had three of Free State’s 10 hits and even finished a triple shy of the cycle.
“She’s capable of that,” Ice said. “She’s got really good bat speed. This (Olathe East) girl was throwing inside, and she likes inside pitches.”
Mueller got her day started with a hard-hit single to left to begin the bottom of the second. She came around to score later in the frame, giving the Firebirds a 3-0 advantage.
With two away in the third, Mueller smoked a base hit to left center. That allowed Jasmine Brixius and Clopton to score after both reached via singles of their own. Mueller then capped off her stellar performance with a two-run blast to left in the fifth, scoring senior Sara Roszak after she got on base with a single.
“I just noticed her first pitch was a strike, so I just went for it,” Mueller said. “It was really good (when I got back to the dugout); they have a lot of energy. They really pump you up, so it makes you feel good.”
This was the second game in a row in which Mueller has hit a home run. Both times she was batting in the No. 6 spot in the lineup, which is one position higher than where she had been hitting from earlier in the season.
“It definitely gives me a little boost of confidence,” Mueller said. “You are higher up — it means you are getting better and better.”
Part of the reason Ice moved Mueller up was because of her speed. The Firebirds have a more complete lineup when she’s in between power hitters Kay Lee Richardson and McKenzie Marcum.
But Mueller, who is in her first real season after not getting the chance to play as a freshman last spring, has also earned the promotion with her play lately. She has driven in 11 RBIs over the last five games.
Mueller went 1-for-1 with a double, two RBIs, three runs scored and three walks against Lansing. In the win over Mill Valley, she was 3-for-4 with one RBI and two runs scored. She had one RBI, one run scored and two walks against Shawnee Mission West. And in the win over Gardner Edgerton, she crushed a three-run homer in her lone hit of the game.
“Once in a while I have off games,” Mueller said. “But I’ve definitely been swinging the bat better than I did over the summer. I think it’s because we practice every day, so it’s definitely helped me a lot.”
Other Firebirds got in on the action on Thursday, as well. Roszak hit two singles and Clopton had a single to go along with her home run. Georgia Rea, Brixius and Marcum each recorded one base hit as well.
Next, Free State will host Olathe West at 1 p.m. Saturday.