Free State baseball earns 5-2 win over Lawrence to end regular season on high note

photo by: Carter Gaskins

Free State senior Dew Bradford (1) celebrates with team after scoring game's first run against Lawrence High Tuesday night at Hoglund Ballpark on May 11, 2021.

If you ask Free State senior pitcher Michael Uhler, his favorite out of the Firebirds’ win over Lawrence High on Tuesday night was the last one.

Uhler was responsible for all 21 outs of Free State’s 5-2 win at Hoglund Ballpark. And the key to his complete-game effort in the rivalry game was that he had total confidence in his teammates behind him, which was never more obvious than on the final pitch.

LHS brought the game-tying run to the plate in the seventh with two away and runners on first and second. Senior Cole Mondi hit a ball to senior second baseman Joey Wood, who had to move over to his left before firing the ball to first base to beat a sliding Mondi to the bag.

That led to a jubilant celebration on the field by the Firebirds, who ended their two-game losing skid and snapped the Lions’ four-game win streak.

“That last play is obviously going to stand out to me,” Uhler said. “It is something that every team dreams to feel. Beating your rivals and that kind of happiness you feel very few times as a baseball club — that’s something that we felt today.”

photo by: Carter Gaskins

Free State senior pitcher Michael Uhler throws a pitch during a game against Lawrence High Tuesday night at Hoglund Ballpark on May 11, 2021.

While the game ultimately came down to the final pitch, the Firebirds (11-9) led from start to finish against LHS (11-8) in the regular-season finale.

Free State senior Drew Bradford began the game with a leadoff triple to right off junior pitcher Grant Cleavinger. Bradford shouted in celebration toward the dugout, setting the tone for FSHS in the first crosstown clash since 2019.

“That fired everyone up,” Bradford said. “That just kept things going. To get two early runs right off the bat, it just fires the whole team up.”

FSHS eventually loaded the bases without an out, thanks to an error by catcher Karson Green on a strikeout and a walk issued to junior Maddox Burkitt. Harrison Juhl then brought in the game’s first run by working a walk of his own.

An impressive diving snag from Lawrence junior second baseman Evan Bannister kept the inning from getting out of control, but Free State did score another run on a wild pitch later that frame.

“There was some frustration early in the game with the way we played defensively,” LHS head coach Brad Stoll said. “Hats off to them. They took advantage of our mistakes early and that’s the difference in the game.”

The Firebirds weren’t done after the opening frame, however.

Free State scored one run in the second on a sacrifice fly from Brady Kern, which followed a leadoff single from Matt Gabriel and a double by Wood. FSHS added another run in the third on an errant throw from LHS pitcher Ike Cobb, who was attempting to get out the lead runner at third base.

“I hope that they understand if they play with toughness, good things usually happen,” FSHS head coach Mike Hill said. “From the mound to the plate to defensively, they were showing some toughness.”

photo by: Carter Gaskins

Lawrence High pitcher Grant Cleavinger throws a pitch during a game against Free State Tuesday night at Hoglund Ballpark on May 11, 2021.

That toughness showed up after the Lions cut the deficit in half during the bottom of the third. Bannister began the inning with an infield single and was later scored on a triple to left from senior Devin Neal.

Neal eventually scored on an error by Burkitt at first base, which was one of two mishaps by the FSHS defense all night.

Free State’s defense made a number of impressive plays, which included the last out of the game. Third baseman Grant Gregory also had a highlight play in the fifth, when he fired a ball across the infield before senior Carlos Vasquez reached first base.

The combination of that reliable defense and early offense provided Uhler with all the confidence he needed on the mound.

“I knew my defense would have my back (and) my offense would have my back,” Uhler said. “So I just went out there and pitched how I knew I could pitch.”

Uhler finished with six strikeouts. He didn’t record a strikeout until he whiffed three batters in the third, but he appeared to get more comfortable as the game went on, which kept the Lions from really threatening until the seventh.

“He’s not going to blow you away with stuff,” Hill said. “He’s a fierce competitor and throws multiple pitches for strikes.”

“We tip our cap to Uhler,” Stoll said.

Both teams will now turn their attention to the postseason.

The Lions, who won four in a row entering Tuesday’s game, already had plenty of momentum heading into the playoffs. The Firebirds now hope that their rivalry game win was just the springboard they needed ahead of regionals.

“It is a very big win for us,” Uhler said. “Hopefully it will spring us into regionals and hopefully into state.”

FSHS 2 1 1 1 0 0 0 — 5 4 2

LHS 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 — 2 7 2


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