ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Amy Duerksen ripped four hits in four at-bats, scored four runs and drove in three to lead the Hillsboro Trojans to a 12-2 run-rule victory in the first round of regional softball action Monday at the Sports Complex.
The junior shortstop led a 13-hit attack as the Trojans, now 15-4, hit the ball with determination up and down the lineup.
After starting pitcher Marissa Diener survived unscathed a two-hit first inning against the 0-18 Wildcats from Allen, the Trojans took charge in their half of the inning.
Lead-off hitter Duerksen set the tone with a hard-hit double to left-center field. Danielle Goossen followed with a two-bagger to left to drive in the Trojans’ first run.
Two Wildcat errors, a run-scoring ground-ball out and a single by Sara Hamm put the Trojans on top 4-0.
Hillsboro padded its lead with two more runs in the bottom of the second. A lead-off walk to Katie Baltzer, a sacrifice bunt by Heather Stepanek and Duerksen’s second hit of the night accounted for the first score. Goossen’s second double of the game drove in Duerksen for the second run.
The Wildcats touched Diener for their only two runs in the top of the third inning. With two outs and a runner on first following a base on balls, Heights’ Cathy Myers, Lauren Theas and Ashley Keighley followed with consecutive singles-none of them hit particularly hard-before Diener struck out Dawn Hinson to end the rally.
Unruffled, Hillsboro answered with four runs in the bottom of the inning on hits by Hamm and Diener, a walk to Stepanek, hits by Duerksen and Goossen and a run-scoring ground out by Lindsay.
After a scoreless fourth inning by both teams, Hillsboro ended the game with two runs in the bottom of the fifth.
Duerksen started the inning with her fourth hit of the night, advanced to second on a wild pitch and then to took third on a ground out by Goossen.
Lindsay laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to score Duerksen.
Emily Ratzlaff then drew a walk with the bases empty, advanced to third on a single by Erin Wiebe and scored the game-ending run on a wild pitch.
Diener (8-2) pitched the first three innings of the game before giving way to Lindsay to start the fourth. Diener allowed five hits, struck out five and walked one.
Lindsay faced the minimum six batters over the last two innings, did not allow a hit and struck out one.
Coach Carolyn Long said it was obvious even before the game began which team wanted to win this gam.e
“The way a team steps off the bus and begins their warmup says a lot about their attitude and their willingness to be there,” she said. “It was obvious that we were on two totally different ends of the spectrum.
“Our girls couldn’t wait to get out there and play today, and it was obvious Northern Heights was ready for their season to be over.
“Before the game, our girls said they were nervous today-and I had never really heard that before from them. I think they were nervous because they don’t want their season to be over.
“They stepped up to the plates and weren’t afraid to swing the bat, and got some really good hits. And they were smart on the bases.”
With the win, the Trojans advanced to the semifinals of the tournament against the Southeast of Saline Trojans, who will have home field advantage the rest of the way.
Southeast is 18-2 for the season and seeded second in the tournament behind 14-1 Mission Valley.
The Trojan-Trojan matchup was set to start at about 3:30 p.m. Tuesday.
The winner of that game will play for the regional championship and a berth in the Class 3A state tournament at around 5 p.m.
Accounts of Tuesday’s action will appear in this week’s Free Press Extra, on newsstands late Thursday afternoon.