Free State softball ends season with hard-fought 9-1 loss to undefeated Olathe Northwest
A six-run sixth inning doomed the No. 8-seed Free State softball team 9-1 against top-seeded Olathe Northwest in the state quarterfinal on Thursday at Arrocha Ballpark in Lawrence.
Free State (10-13) ended its season leaning on starter Elsa Carrillo, who posted a big afternoon pitching six complete innings with 12 total strikeouts. She kept the Firebirds within two runs of the Ravens (23-0) up until a pivotal sixth inning that saw Free State lose control.
Coach Charley Bowen said his Firebirds were never going to flinch with Carrillo on the hill.
“That’s what Elsa did all year,” Bowen said. “I know the character she is and the drive she has just like all the girls on this team. They kept believing and they kept working hard.”
It wasn’t an ideal start in the circle for Carrillo. After she walked her first three batters of the day, Carrillo and the Firebirds found themselves down 2-0 in the bottom of the first when a base hit by Northwest’s Kendall Yarnell bounced off Free State shortstop Cydnee Price’s toe, resulting in an error-forced RBI double.
Two strikeouts by Carrillo moved the game into the top of the second, where the Ravens’ starter Lilly Fisher walked leadoff batter Grace Rothwell. Picking up the first out on a pop-up to shortstop, Fisher struck out the next two batters, Price and Izzy Smith, to strand Rothwell at first and keep Free State off the scoreboard through the side.
Carrillo showed command in the bottom of the second, striking out three consecutive batters to swiftly bring up the third. With two outs in the top of the third, Free State senior Leah Mueller took a pitch in the shoulder, eventually stealing second during the next at-bat. Megan Kohl, who had singled in the first, lined out to shortstop, leaving the Firebirds runless in the side.
Northwest’s Claire Lopez advanced to third off a one-out walk by Carrillo, but the Firebirds’ starter mowed down Bre Severino to keep the Ravens’ lead at 2-0 heading into the fourth.
The Firebirds went down 1-2-3 in the top of the fourth, bringing Carrillo right back to the dirt. A two-out single by Val Galligan gave Northwest something to build on in the bottom half, but catcher Izzy Smith threw out Galligan stealing second to close the door on the inning.
Northwest, still searching for some insurance, dropped two consecutive batters on strikes to Carrillo in the bottom of the fifth. Quick on her feet, Lopez turned a passed ball into a two-base play with Yarnell coming to the plate.
Yarnell, the only Raven in the RBI column thus far, doubled to add another run on a 3-2 pitch by Carrillo, sending Northwest up 3-0 heading into the sixth.
A leadoff walk for Mueller opened the sixth on high hopes for the Firebirds. An outfield single by Kohl looked to push Mueller to second, but the throw by Kennedy Glassford was in time to axe what would’ve been Free State’s tying run at second base.
Courtesy runner Daijah Preston stole second base, setting up a big-time one-out, RBI-single by Aly Richardson that brought Preston across home plate. Free State senior Alena Velilla said the dugout was electric after the scoring play.
“(Richardson) is one of those girls that when they step up to the plate, we have confidence they’re going to get a base hit,” Velilla said. “Her doing the same thing she always does, a base hit right up the middle, just gets everybody going.”
Free State got its tying run back on base when Fisher walked Rothwell, moving Richardson to second and resulting in a pitching change for Northwest from Fisher to Annatesia Ballew with just one out in the top of the sixth.
The opportune inning got even sweeter for Free State when Ballew walked Carrillo to load the bags. Northwest pulled Ballew after the walk, opting for Severino with Price due up for the Firebirds. Locked in with a full count, Severino struck out Price swinging to stave off Free State with the bases juiced.
The big-time stop by Severino set up a one-run, RBI double by Galligan sending the Ravens up 4-1 with no outs in the bottom of the sixth. Carrillo, filling the bags after the score, coughed up a near-lethal three-run, RBI triple hit clear against the centerfield wall by Ashlyn Gaughan, bumping the Ravens’ lead to 7-1 with Free State still looking for two more outs in the sixth.
Yarnell, the scariest batter at the plate all day long, busted the game wide open with a two-run homer over the leftfield fence sending Free State down 9-1 heading into the seventh. Free State pushed Velilla to first on a walk but watched its season come to an end on a one-out double play.
Thursday’s loss was the final high school softball game for four Free State seniors.
“This is a great experience,” Bowen said. “We’re going to lose some seniors that are very important to this program that got us here, but I hope the younger girls see their hard work and that it’s possible to get here.”
Free State 000 001 0 – 1 3 2
O-Northwest 200 016 X – 9 6 0
Save – Severino; L – Carrillo.
Highlights for Free State: Kohl 2-for-3; Richardson 1-for-3, RBI; Velilla 1-for-4; Carrillo 6.0 IP, 6 H, 9 R, 9 ER, 8 BB, 12 K.