Firebirds get angry, win regional title game, 1-0
photo by: Carter Gaskins/Journal-World Photo
In the heat of a scoreless Class 6A regional championship game Thursday evening, Free State High’s softball players proved it’s a bad idea to anger them.
The Firebirds were not at all pleased when the bottom of the fifth inning concluded on their home field with a double play on a would-be sacrifice fly.
They responded with sophomore pitcher Tatum Clopton, who delivered a perfect game, striking out the side versus Haysville-Campus in the top of the sixth. Sophomore Georgia Rea led off the bottom of the inning with what proved to be a game-winning solo home run for the defending 6A champions, who sealed a return trip to the state tournament with a 1-0 victory.
“After that not-so-good call, I was like, ‘I’m hitting this no matter what,'” Rea said not too long after she had been mobbed at home plate by her teammates for driving in the first and only run of the game. “It was the mentality. Take that anger and that frustration and use it against them. We’re winning this thing.”
The grievance originated when a FSHS inning ended on a double play for the third time in the regional title game. In the fifth, senior Lauryn Jones had tagged up at second base as a Taylor Burks pop-up hung in the air, moving toward right field. Jones planned on moving to third on the out and it appeared she had done so safely. However, after the umpires convened to talk it over, she was ruled out.
“It was a judgment call that didn’t go in our favor. That, I think, got us a little mad,” a smiling Clopton said after striking out 17 batters in seven innings of work.
“OK. It’s time to focus now,” Clopton added of the Firebirds’ collective mentality headed into the sixth. “And it’s time for us to come back and make a statement that you don’t make us mad.”
photo by: Carter Gaskins/Journal-World Photo
In what looked like a pressure situation, the Firebirds (20-2) didn’t come close to breaking, which didn’t surprise head coach Lee Ice.
“She’s a pretty tough kid,” Ice said of Rea, who entered her clutch at bat hitless on the day. “It was good to have a game like that — I don’t like them, but that’s the kind of game that’s going to happen over there (at the state tournament) next week.”
Free State closed out the victory in the top of the seventh with sophomore shortstop Sara Roszak preserving the no-hitter by gunning out Campus leadoff hitter Faith Bannister on a bunt. Clopton then fanned the final two hitters to send the Firebirds back to the state tournament.
“We talk about it every day,” Ice said. “We talk about pitching, defense, timely hitting. Today we got the timely hit.”
The Colts (15-7) only put the ball in play four times against Clopton.
“She’s what we’ve seen all year,” Ice said. “She’s going to strike out her two per inning — that’s crazy.”
According to Rea, Tatum’s teammates have come to expect dominating performances, too.
“Honestly, I’m not shocked,” Rea said of the way Clopton fired. “She comes out and plays her heart out and performs every time. Today was just a cherry on top of it.”
Firebirds end Lions’ season
Lawrence High coach Steve Seratte entered Thursday’s regional semifinal versus Free State fully aware of the challenge ahead. Seratte called it a tough draw “to say the least.”
Indeed, the Firebirds rolled, 11-0, in five innings, in large part by bashing three home runs.
FSHS had five runs on the board by the end of the first, once freshman Kay Lee Richardson knocked out a two-run homer.
A six-run second for Free State officially blew the game open, with Clopton smashing a two-run homer to left field and senior Emma Stanwix sending a three-run shot out of the park in center.
FSHS ace Clopton dominated, as well, striking out 11 of the 14 Lawrence batters she faced in four innings of work, surrendering just two hits.
“We were looking for small victories,” Seratte said. “We wanted to get a couple hits, which we did. I just wanted to get one run off of them this year and that didn’t come to pass. But I was happy with our effort after we got some of the nervousness out and started playing like I know we can. You can’t give teams like that two or three errors and expect to come out with a win.”
The Lions finished the season 3-18.
“When you look at it, it’s tough when you only win three ball games, and we had a tough schedule and weren’t just in a lot of ball games either,” Seratte admitted. “But all the kids committed to the season. They stayed with it. We didn’t have any attitude issues. And the old adage is you learn more from losing than you do from winning. And I think they stuck through that and they gained from it. So from that perspective it was an OK year.”
Free State 1, Haysville-Campus 0
HCHS 000 000 0 — 0 0 1
FSHS 000 001 X — 1 6 0
W — Tatum Clopton. L — Kelie Stanley.
FSHS highlights: Clopton, 17 Ks, 0 H; Lauryn Jones, 2-2; Sara Roszak, 2-3; Georgia Rea, 1-2, HR; Macy Miles, 1-3.
Free State 11, Lawrence 0 (5 innings)
LHS 000 00 — 0 2 3
FSHS 560 0 X — 11 9 0
W — Tatum Clopton. L — Jesse Cox.
FSHS highlights: Clopton, 4 IP, 11 Ks, 2 H, 2-3, HR, 3 RBI; Macy Miles, 3-3, 2 RBI, 2 R; Kay Lee Richardson, 2-3, HR, 3 RBI, 2R; Emma Stanwix, 1-2, HR, 3 RBI.
LHS highlights: Chayse Burghart, 1-2, double; Sammy Williams, 1-1.