Free State softball upsets Garden City 5-2 in regional championship; LHS’ season ends in semifinal round
photo by: Conner Becker/Journal-World
In a game that was forced into extras, the No. 10-seeded Free State softball team rode a three-run bomb by junior Cydnee Price to knock off No. 2-seeded Garden City 5-2 in the regional championship on Thursday.
The Lady Firebirds (10-12) walked into the title game easily after a convincing 16-0 win over Wichita North in the semifinal round earlier in the day. Free State junior Elsa Carrillo and Garden City’s Brie Manwarren went head-to-head on the mound, and Carrillo pitched all eight innings, allowing just two runs on four hits and six strikeouts.
“Elsa’s been a steady player for us all year,” Free State coach Charley Bowen said. “I feel like right now she’s getting the kind of success to beat this team today.”
Free State’s bats got started right away with a leadoff single by senior Alena Velilla in the top of the first. Late in the inning, junior Aly Richardson delivered a successful bunt to bring Velilla home from third, giving the Lady Firebirds a 1-0 lead.
Velilla and Richardson worked their magic again at the top of the third. Velilla advanced to third off a leadoff single and then crossed home plate on an RBI single by Richardson. Free State was ahead by two runs when the side retired.
Carrillo, who kept the Lady Buffs runless through three frames, struck out at the plate to lead off the top of the fourth. Then, Manwarren sent senior Isabella Smith and Price back to the dugout to end the inning.
Manwarren picked up her 11th strikeout of the game against senior Leah Mueller and kept Free State off the scoreboard through the top of the fifth. Elly Ortiz then smacked a leadoff triple in the bottom of the fifth and scored on a sacrifice RBI groundout by Emma Ortiz, trimming the Lady Firebirds’ lead down to just a run. Then, with the bases loaded and two outs, Carrillo walked Garden City’s Piper Harris, tying the game at 2-2 headed into the sixth.
A golden opportunity arose for Free State when junior Megan Kohl stole her way to third base off a leadoff single in the top of the sixth. But Carrillo struck out swinging to retire the side empty-handed. In the bottom of the sixth, Free State’s Grace Rothwell chased down Garden City’s Yocelynn Vargas on her way to third to keep things tied at 2-2 heading into the seventh.
Garden City, still tied with the Lady Firebirds with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, placed Ryann Warren in scoring position at second on a wild pitch by Carrillo. Manwarren’s two-out hit resulted in a flyout to Rothwell, which sent the ballgame into extras.
Manwarren coughed up a walk to Kohl and an outfield single to Richardson to open the top of the eighth. After a groundout and strikeout, Price tore the game open with a three-run bomb over the left field fence on the very first pitch from Manwarren.
“She got all of it,” Bowen said. “For a kid like that to come in and fill our shortstop position, making a big hit like that is really special.”
Free State sealed off the Lady Buffs 1-2-3 in the bottom of the eighth, and when Kohl made the third and final out on a pop-up to right field, the party began. Free State, having won four of its last five games, is headed to the state tournament for the first time since 2021.
Bowen said a rigorous league schedule may have meant the Lady Firebirds flew under the radar a bit, but it doesn’t take away from the progress the girls have made all season long.
“We’ve played in tough games all year and we’ve been on the other side of those games. I think the Sunflower League and our schedule, the tough games, it built this team and they just kept fighting.”
Free State 101 000 03 – 5
Garden City 000 020 00 – 2
W – Carrillo; L – Manwarren.
Lawrence falls to Garden City
Before the championship battle, the Lawrence High softball team lost its grip against Garden City, losing 7-1 in the regional semifinal on Thursday. The Lions finish the season at 5-16 under first-year coach Mike Byrn.
The Lions were hitless through the first three innings, but senior Emme Dye provided a break with a solo home run in the top of the fourth, cutting the Lady Lions’ deficit in half. But then, during the fifth and sixth innings, LHS gave up a total of five runs and didn’t answer the Lady Buffs in the final frame.
Five of the Lady Buffs’ seven runs came off LHS’ starter, junior Taylor Zeckser, who managed a single strikeout with seven hits and three earned runs.
Alongside Dye’s fourth-inning homer, sophomores Lydia Folks (1-for-3) and Maddy Crawford (1-for-3) were the only other LHS batters to play in a live ball.
Lawrence 000 100 0 – 1
Garden City 020 023 X – 7
W – Manwarren; L – Zeckser.