Free State baseball shuts out Dodge City, rallies against Haysville Campus for regional title

photo by: Mike Gunnoe/Special to the Journal-World

Free State's Cole Wright yells out in celebration with Jackson Lickert after hitting a single that led to multiple runs against Haysville Campus on Wednesday, May 15th, 2024, in Lawrence.

For the sixth consecutive season, the Free State Firebirds will return to the state tournament after a fourth-inning comeback headlined by Cole Wright’s RBI single sealed the 8-2 regional championship win over the Wichita-Haysville Campus Colts.

Free State head coach Mike Hill said he was proud of his team’s fight on Wednesday after an early deficit to start the contest.

“We got down 2-0 (in the first) and it’s in the fourth (inning) in a championship game and things get a little tight….”, he said. “But the kids kept their composure and they’ve been there before. So this was nothing that they can’t handle.”

It was a quick turnaround to play 11th-seeded Haysville Campus as No. 3 Free State had wrapped up its semifinal game with a 6-0 shutout win against Dodge City just half an hour before the first pitch of the regional championship.

Campus made its way to the title game after ending Topeka-Washburn Rural’s season with a narrow win of 2-1.

The Colts struck first against FSHS and yielded two runs after a fielding error placed Camden Schroeder on first. An RBI triple by Hagen Warkins immediately followed, which brought Schroeder around to score, as another Firebird error advanced Warkins to home to put Free State down trailed 2-0.

The Firebirds’ hot hitting from game one was extinguished for the first three innings as they were held hitless by Campus pitcher Camden Stateler and the Colts’ defense.

Free State pitcher Tyler Jeffries didn’t allow any more runs over the next three innings before Zane Shaw took over in the top of the fourth. Shaw completely commanded the mound, picking up three strikeouts in a row for a fast switch over to offense.

Kyle Graves followed up the edge Shaw provided with Free State’s first hit of the game in the bottom of the fourth inning. Then Jeffries grounded it directly to Campus’ shortstop Schroeder who tossed it over to second baseman Carson Smith and sent Graves out. Smith tried to turn the double play but overthrew it into the Free State dugout which automatically advanced Jeffries to second.

Next, Andrew Zimmerschied placed a soft hit in the infield to find himself on first base and send courtesy runner Jackson Lickert to third. The bases were soon loaded after Finn Moore was hit by a pitch.

With two outs, Cole Wright showed up huge for the Firebirds and dropped the ball perfectly between second base and center field for a single that scored Lickert and Zimmerschied. The ball rolled past the Campus center fielder, which sent Moore and Wright around the diamond, swinging all the momentum to Free State as it seized its first lead of the game at 4-2.

“I knew it was down, I didn’t think he was going to catch it,” Wright said. “And then when I saw it get past him I just ran for days after that.”

Shaw came out on fire again from the mound and collected his fourth straight strikeout of the evening. He eventually ended the night with six strikeouts in his four innings of action.

The Firebird offense entered the bottom of the fifth assertively as they opened with three straight singles from Ben Graves, Mason Lester and Kyle Graves to add another point on the scoreboard. A missed ball advanced Lester to home as Zimmerschied followed up with a single to score Kyle Graves for a comfortable 7-2 cushion.

The Firebirds went on to score one more insurance run in the bottom of the sixth as Wright made his way around the diamond off an RBI by Lester for the final score of 8-2.

“We have wonderful kids. They’re talented first of all and they work extremely hard and have supportive parents,” Hill said. “I’m proud to coach here.”

The Colts end their campaign at 11-15 on the year as Free State improves to 21-6 and prepares for the 6A state tournament on May 23-24 at Hoglund Ballpark on the campus of the University of Kansas. It’s the sixth straight year, with the exclusion of the 2020 season, that the Firebirds have made it to state.

“It’s really special because there’s such great history here because we do a lot of winning at this school,” Wright said. “So to continue and be a part of it is great.”

Line score

Haysville Campus 200 000 0 – 2 4 3

Free State 000 431 X – 8 7 1

W — Shaw; L — Stateler.

Highlights for FSHS: Zimmerschied 2-3, R, RBI; K. Graves 2-4, R, RBI; Wright 1-2, 2 R, 2 RBI, BB; Shaw 4.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 6 K.

Free State 6, Dodge City 0

Just 11 days removed from their last meeting, the Free State Firebirds beat the Dodge City Red Demons 6-0 to advance to the regional championship.

In the first match up on May 4, FSHS picked up a 4-1 win over DCHS. This time around, Free State completed its game in a more dominating fashion by outhitting DCHS 8-1 in addition to the seven strikeouts between starting pitcher Blaine Larkin and reliever Jeffries for the shutout victory.

The Firebirds made an early statement on their home field, scoring two runs in the bottom of the first for a quick lead. Lester hit a single to left center in a two-out rally situation in the bottom of the first inning. Shortstop Kyle Graves followed up with a RBI double down the left-field line to score Lester before making his own way around the diamond off of a balk and pass ball to establish a 2-0 Free State advantage.

The Firebird defense stifled the Red Demons as Larkin delivered a masterful performance with his start on the mound. He collected his five strikeouts through five innings to hold Dodge City scoreless.

Free State wouldn’t make its way around the bags again until the bottom of the fifth after a sacrifice fly by designated hitter Lester scored in Ryker Mahnke and advanced Kyle Graves to third. Kyle Graves would touch home plate after a passed ball to expand the Firebird advantage to 4-0 heading into the top of the sixth.

FSHS retired Larkin and subbed in reliever Jeffries, who had played catcher for the previous five innings. He struck out two batters in his two innings to secure the semifinal win.

FSHS pieced together its last two scores from an RBI double by Jeffries that brought in Lickert. After fouling a couple off with two strikes against him, Wright nailed a single to score courtesy runner Blake Warner for a final score of 6-0.

Line score

Dodge City 000 000 0 – 0 1 1

Free State 200 022 X – 6 8 1

W — Larkin; L — Miller.

Highlights for FSHS: Wright 3-3, RBI; Larkin 5.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 5 K; Jeffries 2.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K.


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