ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
The Hillsboro softball team lost twice to a salty Hoisington squad, 4-3, 7-4, in the season opener for both teams Friday in Hoisington.
The opening loss was the toughest to take, as the Trojans grabbed a late lead only to lose the contest in the Cardinals’ last at-bat.
The game started as a pitching duel between the Trojans’ Marissa Diener (0-1) and the Cardinals’ Brittany Van Scyoc.
Hillsboro mounted the game’s first scoring threat in the top of the fourth when Amanda Bina and Laura Skiles ripped back-to-back singles with two outs. With Bina on third, Van Scyoc got Sara Hamm to ground out to end the inning.
In the bottom of the fourth, Hoisington’s Kayla Stout broke Diener’s spell by belting a fly ball toward right field. The ball sailed just beyond the mitt of right fielder Erin Wiebe. By the time the Trojans got the ball back into the infield, Stout had crossed the plate for a home run.
It appeared that might be all the fireworks Hoisington would need as the Trojans managed only two hits against Van Scyoc through six full innings.
Then, facing the possibility of their last at-bat, the Trojans found some offense. Down to their last out, Diener stroked a ground-ball single to center, then advanced to third on a pair of wild pitches by Van Scyoc.
Heather Stepanek, meanwhile, worked the count to 3-2 before hitting a soft liner over second base that fell in for a hit, driving in Diener with the tying run.
Leadoff hitter Amy Duerksen then belted a pitch to right that rolled to the fence. Duerksen circled the bases to give Hillsboro a 3-1 advantage.
The Trojans and Diener took that lead-and a lot of enthusiasm-into the bottom of seventh.
But Hoisington took up where Hillsboro left off, starting its final at bat with consecutive singles by Stout, Brittani Nettleingham and Shayla Morris to load the bases with nobody out.
Becca Crotinger followed with a ground ball to the right side of the infield that the Trojans could not field cleanly. Stout scored on the play but Nettleingham was thrown out as she tried to score.
Van Scyoc followed with a ground ball to short, scoring Morris. Duerksen threw out the hitter at first. But Hamm’s relay throw to third to catch Crotinger was wide. The ball caromed off third-baseman Bina’s leg, allowing the winning run to score.
“Game 1 was a heartbreaker,” coach Carolyn Long said. “We worked the whole game for what we finally got in the top of the seventh.
“When it came time to step up defensively, we just couldn’t hold them. Getting the first batter out is such a key. They ended up with bases loaded with one out and we just didn’t get the job done.”
Diener (0-1) took the loss for the Trojans, giving up only six hits-three of which came in the seventh. The senior struck out seven Cardinals and did not surrender a walk.
Game 2 was a hitter’s game almost from the start. Hoisington scored first with a run off junior Laura Lindsay in the opening inning, but Hillsboro tied it when Emily Ratzlaff reached on an error and eventually scored on a single by Skiles.
Hillsboro grabbed a 4-1 lead with three runs in the third. Tiffany Knaak led off with a walk and Duerksen reached on an error. After Lindsay sacrificed them to second and third and Bina flied out, Ratzlaff doubled, scoring Knaak and Duerksen. Ratzlaff then scored on a single by Diener.
Hoisington came right back with two runs on the bottom of third to cut the lead to 4-3.
After the Trojans went down in order in fourth, Hoisington took a 5-4 lead with two runs in its half of the inning on three hits.
The fifth inning mirrored the fourth-Hillsboro went down in order and Hoisington scored two more runs off Lindsay, this time with the help of two Trojan errors.
Neither team scored in the sixth or seventh to preserve the 7-4 final tally.
Lindsay (0-1) took the loss, giving up nine hits over 42/3 innings. She struck out four batters and did not surrender a walk. In 11/3 innings of relief, Diener gave up one hit.
“In the second game they hit Laura pretty well,” Long said. “But in those instances we need to get bigger defensively.”
The Trojans managed only four hits in Game 2, even through they scored five runs. Hillsboro batters did make consistent contact, though, striking out only once in the game and four times all day.
“We connected with the ball OK, of course there’s always room for improvement at the plate,” Long said. “Defensively, we have to get better. We’ve got to find it from within to give every bit of effort we have.”
Long said Hoisington was a challenging opponent for a season opener.
“Hoisington has an established program,” she said. “They were a tough first game for us. But we need that strength of schedule if we’re to go anywhere in post-season play.
“We take from Friday’s losses what we can-and use it to make us better.”
Coming-The Trojans were scheduled to take on Lyons on Tuesday, then will open their home schedule with a doubleheader Friday against Hesston at the Sports Complex. Game 1 is scheduled to start at 4:30 p.m.
The following Tuesday, Hillsboro will travel to Marion for a 4:30 p.m. doubleheader.