ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Solid defensive play does make a difference.
The Hillsboro softball team, which averaged more than 12 errors in its first two doubleheaders this season, committed only two against Nickerson Thursday.
The result: a pair of Trojan wins, 3-1 and 6-5, and a 4-2 record for the young season.
Coach Carolyn Long made some lineup changes against Nickerson, and that seemed to help.
“We have a large number out, some with more experience than others,” Long said. “Trying to figure out what and who works best has probably been the biggest question.
“We talked about a lot of things and what had to take place in order for us to win ball games. The girls are very unselfish and will do what we think is necessary to win.”
In Game 1, the Trojans played errorless ball and rode the strong pitching of Marissa Diener (2-1) to the two-run victory. The junior struck out 11 Panthers, gave up only five hits and did not walk a single batter. The 11 whiffs bested her career mark by one.
Diener had a three-hit shutout going into the seventh and final inning, then gave up a ground-rule double to Meghan Hochstein, who scored on a single by Brooke Burch. Diener retired the next two hitters to seal the victory.
“Marissa threw a phenomenal game for us,” Long said. “She works extremely hard in the off-season and that has paid off for her-and of course for us. We’ll continue to depend on her; we need her to step up every night like she did on Thursday.”
The Trojans, meanwhile, were throttled for most of the game by Nickerson pitcher Lindsey Herrell, collecting only seven hits.
Three of those hits came in the second, resulting on the Trojans’ first run. Diener, Erin Wiebe and Sara Hamm singled in succession to score Diener.
In the next inning, leadoff hitter Danielle Goossen walked and Amy Duerksen drove her in with a double to left-center. After Laura Lindsay bunted Duerksen to third, Emily Ratzlaff’s fly ball to center enabled Duerksen to score.
Duerksen and Wiebe each picked up a pair of singles to spark the Trojans at the plate.
Wiebe started in the circle for Hillsboro in Game 2 and gave up three runs in the opening inning on two hits, a hit batter and an error.
With the bases loaded and two outs, Wiebe uncorked the wild pitch, allowing one run to score. Ratzlaff, playing catcher, retrieved the ball and fired down to third in attempt to get an advancing runner. But the throw sailed into the outfield, allowing the other two runners to score.
“It was quite an emotional blow,” Long said of the inning. “But it was a good character check for our team. They kept their heads and were able to battle back and do the little things it took to get the second win of the night. I was extremely proud of them.”
Nickerson picked up a fourth run in the top of the second off relief pitcher Laura Lindsay on a triple by Katie Proffitt and a sacrifice bunt by Jamie Moore.
Down 4-0, Hillsboro came back with three runs in the bottom of the third when Goossen and Lindsay singled and scored on a triple by Ratzlaff, who then crossed the plate on a single by Hamm.
The Trojans scored three more runs in fifth to take a 6-4 lead. After Goossen and Duerksen singled, Ratzlaff drove them home with her second triple. The junior then scored when the Panthers misplayed a bunt by Hamm.
The Trojans made it interesting when they allowed the Panthers to pull within a run in the seventh. Hochstein led off with a single, then stole second. Nicole Rieland singled her to third with no one out.
Proffitt then flied to right, scoring Hochstein. After the next batter flied out, Duerksen misfired on a throw to first that would have ended the game, to runners on second and third. But Lindsay got the next hitter to ground out to second to end the threat and the game.
Lindsay (2-0) picked up the win in relief, allowing five hits over six innings of work. She struck out only one hitter, but walked none.
Ratzlaff went 3-for-3 with a double, a pair of triples and three runs batted in to pace the Trojans offensively. Lindsay added a pair of singles and one RBI in three at-bats.
Coming-The Trojans were scheduled to play host to Hesston on Tuesday. A report of that game should appear in the Free Press Extra, on newsstands late Thursday afternoon.
Hillsboro will travel to Halstead Friday to take on the Dragons, who are fielding a softball team for the first time. Game time is 4:30 p.m. The Trojans return home next Tuesday to take on Smoky Valley at 4:30 p.m.