Seniors help Free State softball hold off Lawrence for 5-2 win in regular-season finale
photo by: Carter Gaskins
The City Showdown in softball was much more competitive the second time around, but Free State team still managed to pull off a season sweep of Lawrence High with a 5-2 win in the regular-season finale on Thursday.
The Firebirds, who rolled to a 15-2 victory over the Lions at their place just nine days earlier, needed a three-run sixth and a superb pitching performance from Tatum Clopton to hold off their crosstown rival in the rematch.
Free State ends the regular season with a 17-1 overall record, while Lawrence moves to 4-15. It was an important game for both teams entering regionals, which are slated for early next week.
“Those are the types of games that you have to win in the postseason,” FSHS head coach Lee Ice said. “That prepares us for that. Regardless of records, you are going to get everybody’s best shot.”
It was only fitting that Free State’s senior class played a pivotal role in the win on senior night. All six seniors got into the game, and most of them delivered in a big way for the Firebirds.
Clopton, a two-time Kansas Gatorade Player of the Year who is headed to Oklahoma State after high school, gave up four hits and struck out 15 batters. Her final strikeout came with the game-tying run at the plate after LHS had scored another run earlier in the inning.
Just before the final pitch, Clopton had a quick meeting in the circle with senior catcher Georgia Rea. She then caught freshman Taylor Zeckser looking on a 1-2 pitch, leaving LHS runners on first and second to end the game.
“The last thing we wanted was a little bloop and get those runs in,” Clopton said. “We were just making sure we were on the same page with the pitch to come, and it succeeded. It worked.”
That said, Lawrence’s second run in the seventh proved how important Free State’s two-out sequence in the sixth ended up being. And that stretch started with another senior, Robin Todd, the team’s No. 9 hitter who is hitting over .400 on the year.
After a groundout and a pop-up in her first two at-bats, Todd was determined to get on base. She did just that, smashing a first-pitch single to left.
“It was really important because I felt like I was letting everyone down, especially on senior night,” said Todd, who will continue her softball career at Allen County Community College. “I’ve been hitting good recently. I just felt like I had to step up and start a rally.”
That she did.
Rea, who is headed to Western Illinois University next year, reached base right after Todd. Junior second baseman Jasmine Brixius then scored both runners on a base knock. Senior shortstop Sara Roszak, a Kansas signee, capped it off with a single of her own to score Brixius.
“Once our team gets going, it just gets going,” Todd said. “We’ve done it a lot. It is so satisfying to watch.”
FSHS grabbed a 2-0 lead in the first on a two-run single from sophomore Leah Mueller, which brought home both Roszak and Clopton. But the Firebirds were contained for the most part after that, thanks to the pitching of LHS sophomore Maelee Folks.
Folks pitched all seven innings, giving up a total of eight hits. She worked around a lot of traffic, as Free State left nine runners on base. Folks remained composed in the circle while keeping opposing hitters guessing with her craftiness.
“I really tried to put a lot of movement on the ball,” Folks said. “I was trying to go outside, because I’ve been told to keep it low and down. One of my goals was to not get them in a hitting rally, which I think I did pretty well considering the score.”
Folks also trusted her defense behind her to make a play.
Sophomore shortstop Emmersyn Dye was responsible for six putouts, including a double play in the fifth when she stepped on second base before firing a laser to first base. The Firebirds, who clobbered three home runs and collected another five extra-base hits in the first meeting between these two teams, only hit singles on Thursday.
Lawrence, meanwhile, scored one run in the fourth after a base hit from sophomore Hailey Ramirez to begin the inning. She was then scored on a double to right center by junior catcher Chayse Burghart just two at-bats later.
Burghart came through with another single to start the seventh and was eventually brought home on a sacrifice fly from Emily Silvers.
Even though the Lions didn’t walk away with the victory, it was still an impressive showing. Thursday’s City Showdown was their fifth game in four days, and they were coming off of a 10-0 loss to Olathe West on Wednesday.
“We were not happy with how we played yesterday,” LHS head coach Steve Seratte said. “We got out here and said we were going to get after it every pitch. No matter what happens, we were at least going to be able to say we gave it our best effort. And I was so proud of them.”
Free State, the defending two-time state champions, made enough plays in the end to enter the postseason on a 10-game winning streak. Rea made one of the best plays of the game, demonstrating her quick reflexes by snagging a bunt attempt in the air behind the plate. Senior Samantha Bradbury also caught a line-out in right field during the fifth.
Both teams will now await postseason seeding, which will be released on Saturday.