The path to the first state softball title in Lawrence Free State program history started with a bang. And then another.
Booming back-to-back home runs off the bats of freshmen Sara Roszak and Tatum Clopton set the tone for Free State’s 8-3 victory over Olathe Northwest in the Kansas Class 6A state title game at Arrocha Ballpark.
Roszak’s blast thumped off the scoreboard in left center. She’d add another two-run dinger in her second at-bat, which was her third of the tournament.
Clopton’s home run was more of the towering variety, disappearing over the wall in right. It was just the sort of start Clopton wanted before throwing her first pitch of the game.
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“It was incredible. It makes my job immediately easier. Even with a couple errors, and my bad, a couple hit by pitches, it makes it easier because you’re automatically up out of the chute,” Clopton said.
Free State (18-7) was the No. 8 seed headed into the tournament, but only some mid-season injuries slowed their progress.
The Firebirds were nearly 100 percent healthy in the postseason, and the talent showed.
“After we got past Washburn Rural and Blue Valley, I don’t think we really cared who we faced, because everybody else was Sunflower League. We knew what they had, and what we could bring to them.”
Clopton, who has already committed to Oklahoma State, allowed only one hit, and retired the final 12 batters she faced. She struck out seven, and only allowed two balls out of the infield.
“There was a point in the game where I told myself I need to focus. I knew I was tired,” Clopton said. “Every pitch is going to take something out of you, and you need to make sure it’s the best pitch you can make.”
Olathe Northwest (18-7), the defending 6A state champion, upended a pair of 20-win teams to reach the title game for the sixth time under coach Mark Mahoney.
The Ravens battled, and took advantage of Free State’s defensive miscues to make it a 4-3 game after three innings.
Ultimately, though, Free State just had too much firepower.
“That’s a special bunch of freshmen right there, and we knew that,” Mahoney said. “No one picked us to be here after losing seven seniors. For these girls to fight, and beat two 20-win teams on back-to-back nights says a lot about their toughness and the legacy that these other girls have brought. I’m so proud of them.”
Free State’s season ended the way it started — with a victory over Olathe Northwest. And considering that the Firebirds are young, deep and talented, chances are good future seasons will end the way the 2018 campaign did.
“Next year we’re about to get a ton of more talented people. This is going to go on for a while,” Clopton said. “We’re going to build a little legacy.”
Free State took home the first cornerstone of that legacy on Friday.
Baldwin wins Class 4A, Div. II
Baldwin won a pair of huge games on Friday and in the process won a state championship of its own in Class 4A Division II in Salina.
Baldwin beat previously undefeated Girard 6-5 in the semifinals and then knocked off Galena 12-10 in the final.
Baldwin finished the season 18-7.
Mill Valley was beaten by Shawnee Heights 6-3 on Friday in the semifinals at Maize High School near Wichita. Mill Valley also lost in the third-place game to Topeka Seaman 8-6.
Shawnee Heights went on to win the title, beating Wichita Bishop Carroll 11-0.
Class 4A Division 1
Paola and Tonganoxie advanced out of the quarterfinals in Emporia on Friday. Paola beat Arkansas City 6-3 in the quarterfinals, while Tonganoxie knocked off Andale/Garden Plain 6-5.
But both Tonganoxie and Paola lost in the semifinals later on Saturday. Tonganoxie lost 5-3 to Independence, and Paola fell to to Andover Central 8-4. Tonganoxie and Paola shared third place.
Earlier on Saturday, Piper lost in the quarterfinals to Andover Central 12-9 in 12 innings.