Colts trample Firebirds’ title hopes with 9th inning walkoff
photo by: Carter Gaskins
If the severe weather rolling through Lawrence hadn’t forced them out of the dugout, the shellshocked Firebirds may have sat inside Hoglund Ballpark all night.
Instead, members of the Free State High baseball team filed out despondently Friday evening with the Class 6A state runnerup hardware in their possession.
A walkoff, state championship-sealing line drive from Haysville-Campus leadoff hitter Tanner Leslie in the bottom of the ninth inning sent the Firebirds into their daze, the 3-2 defeat in their destination game a bit too much for them to comprehend in the cruel moment.
Playing in the program’s third state title game in five years, the Firebirds established before the season began their goal was to deliver the first FSHS baseball championship since 2015.
But the Colts left Lawrence with the hardware after they opened the ninth by benefiting from Free State’s third error of the state title game. Leslie’s first hit of the game, off of reliever Michael Uhler, came screaming at FSHS right fielder Jack Kallenberger, whose coaches had asked him to play more shallow than usual with the winning run on second base. The shot got over the outfielder’s head and the Colts rushed the turf for an impromptu party.
What does a coach even tell his players who came so close to glory after such a scene?
“You tell them the truth,” Free State’s Mike Hill said. “You tell them you’re proud as heck of them. They fought.”
Hill praised his Firebirds (21-4) for how they kept within striking distance of Campus (23-2) despite falling behind 2-0 after just two innings.
And they had junior pitcher David Stuart to thank in large part for that. Stuart, who also picked up a save in Free State’s semifinal win over Washburn Rural earlier in the day, threw 6 and 2/3 innings against the Colts. After 91 pitches, Stuart struck out five and surrendered only six hits before leaving the game to a standing ovation from the Free State fans in the bleachers.
“It’s really tough,” Stuart said of losing the state title game in extra innings. “We were so close with these seniors and knowing that we didn’t complete the final job for us… But we’re going out proud. We played a great season. We fought. We didn’t give up. Hopefully we can go get another one next year.”
The Firebirds were in position to push Campus to extras thanks to their fifth inning. Senior Cole Burenheide led off with a single. Senior Creighton Cordova would later deliver a two-out bunt single. Senior Jake Baker tied the game at 2 with a two-out base hit to center.
After a disappointing result versus the Colts, many of whom played for the Campus team that knocked the Firebirds out in the first round at the 2018 6A state tournament a year ago to the day, Baker pointed to Free State’s pitching for putting them in position to contend for the 6A title.
“Honestly, they pitched their butts off,” he said of the FSHS hurlers at the state tournament this week. “And without them we wouldn’t be where we are today. They were our backbones for the entire season. They made us go and took the pressure off the offense.”
Though the Firebirds’ bats were more productive in the last game of the season than they were earlier Friday in the semifinal, with eight hits in nine innings, Hill said his team missed too many opportunities.
“We’ve struggled offensively all year,” Hill said. :We’ve had peaks and valleys and unfortunately this weekend we spent more playing toward our floor than our ceiling.”
Even so, the Firebirds felt every step of the way as if they were one or two plays away from their ultimate goal.
“It’s hard, but it’s baseball,” Baker said. “We were taking chances and rolling the dice, and it just didn’t roll that way. But our team was good. We had good bonding and didn’t take anything for granted.”
2-out rally in 6th keys FSHS semifinal win
The Firebirds managed to win the 6A semifinal against Washburn Rural, 6-4, despite finishing with only three hits.
Few plays proved bigger in the semifinal than the wherewithal shown by courtesy runner Spencer Hughes in the bottom of the sixth. In to run for pitcher Camden Karlin, Hughes avoided a tag from Rural’s third baseman with two outs and the bases loaded.
That heads up play allowed all FSHS runners to advance safely and Cole Burenheide scored from third to break what had been a tie game since the bottom of the first.
Ahead 2-1, Free State, which had recorded one hit in the game up to that point, finally broke through offensively. Jack Kallenberger delivered a two-run double to extend the Firebirds’ cushion to 4-1. Then Peyton Sparks drove in two more runs with a single up the middle.
Though Rural loaded the bases with no outs in the top of the seventh, prompting Mike Hill to turn to Stuart in relief of Karlin, the Junior Blues only scored three runs out of it, all courtesy of a double Brady Patterson smashed down the left field line.
Stuart retired the next three batters to finish off a FSHS win.
Class 6A championship
Haysville-Campus 3, Free State 2 (9 innings)
FSHS 000 020 000 — 2 8 3
HCHS 110 000 001 — 3 10 2
W – Austin Warkins. L – Michael Uhler.
FSHS highlights: David Stuart, 6 2/3 IP, 6 H, 5 Ks; Peyton Sparks, 3-4; Cole Burenheide, 2-4, R; Jake Baker, 1-4, 2 RBI.
Class 6A seimifinal
Free State 6, Washburn Rural 4
WRHS 100 000 3 — 4 10 0
FSHS 100 005 X — 6 3 0
W – Camden Karlin. L – Logan Redeker. S — David Stuart.
FSHS highlights: Karlin 6 IP, 9 H, 3 Ks; Peyton Sparks, 2-4, 2 RBI; Jack Kallenberger, 1-3, 2 RBI.