ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Hillsboro’s goal of landing its first state softball playoff berth fell 60 feet short Wednesday at Southeast of Saline.
Hillsboro, shut out for six innings by Southeast pitcher Charly Bloom, staged a seventh-inning rally but lost their battle against the home team, 2-1, with the tying run stranded at third base.
The game was everything a fan could want in a championship meeting as the pitching of Hillsboro’s Holly Lindsay and Southeast’s Bloom fueled a tough battle between two well-matched teams.
If the Trojans from Southeast had an edge over the Trojans from Hillsboro, it was their fielding. That became the difference in the game when Southeast, aided by two Hillsboro errors and a wild pitch, scored both of its runs in the fourth inning.
“We knew going into the championship game we would have to play virtually flawless defense to win,” said coach Carolyn Long. “Most often when you get to post-season play, only two to three points are scored. It comes down to who has the fewest errors.”
Rachael Flax led off the fateful second inning with a single for Southeast. After Laura Reed popped out to short, Lindsey Shirack reached on an error by second baseman Dionne Jost.
An error by shortstop Amber Hefley loaded the bases. Reed then scored when Lindsay’s pitch got past catcher Julie Wall.
After Bloom struck out for the second out of the inning, Jamie Goersch followed with a single to bring Shirack home and give the home team its 2-0 lead.
It appeared the game might end that way. Heading into the bottom of the seventh, Hillsboro had managed only two hits off Bloom.
But the Southeast defense opened the door for Hillsboro when Shirack dropped Hefley’s fly ball to right and shortstop Jamie Schropp let Robyn Penner’s ground ball pass through her legs.
This time, with runners on first and second and no one out, Jill Hein struck out, but the runners advanced to second and third when the ball got away from the catcher.
Hefley scored when Emily Donahue grounded out to first for the second out and Penner advanced to third base. Wall then battled Bloom, but finally swung and missed for a third strike-and the third and final out of the season.
Long said the late rally had the promise of being “reverse deja vu” from last year, when Hillsboro led Southeast late into the championship game only to commit some costly errors and let the game slip away.
“I’m sure the thought of last year’s finals were on some minds,” Long said. “But you can’t just want it or will it-you’ve got to make it happen. Leaving the tying run on third was frustrating.”
Lindsay, who allowed only three hits and no earned runs, finished with a 15-5 record. The junior struck out three and walked one.
“It’s disappointing to reach the finals yet again to come up short,” Long said. “I guess it’s time to do some soul searching to figure out what it’s going to take to get us to the next level.
“What they say is true-defense does win championships. Without that one haunting inning, we would’ve been champions.
“All that aside, I’m proud of these girls and proud to have coached them. They have represented Hillsboro softball well.”
Semifinals vs. Russell
Hillsboro’s three runs in the second inning was more than enough support for Holly Lindsay, who threw a five-hitter and fueled the Trojans to a 6-1 win over Russell in the regional semifinals Wednesday.
Russell scored its only run of the game in the first inning on two singles, an error by Amber Hefley and a wild pitch.
“We had a slow start against Russell,” coach Carolyn Long said. “I could tell we hadn’t played in over a week. After a shaky start, we relaxed and played a solid game.”
Hillsboro’s Robyn Penner led off the second inning with a single. After Julie Wall struck out, Melissa Deckert, Emily Donahue and Becky Jantz hit consecutive singles to make the score 3-0.
The Trojans added two more runs in the fourth. Deckert singled to lead things off. After Donahue flied out to right, Becky Jantz and Dionne Jost singled to score Deckert. After Lindsay flied out, Hefley drove in Jantz with a single.
Hillsboro scored its final run in the sixth on consecutive one-out singles by Jost and Lindsay. Jost scored on Hefley’s ground out.
Lindsay struck out 10 hitters and did not walk anyone.