Taylor Nikkel?s one-out single in the bottom of the seventh enabled Courtney Weber to score the game?s only run as the Hillsboro softball team earned its third straight Class 3A tournament berth with a dramatic 1-0 win Tuesday over Southeast of Saline in the regional championship game at Lyons.
The showdown between the second-seeded purple-clad Trojans from SES and the top-seeded maroon-clad Trojans from Hillsboro quickly turned into a pitching duel between Weber from Hillsboro and Southeast?s Krisitin Conley.
Conley had Hillsboro?s hot bats baffled in the early going, allowing no hits through the first three innings while striking out seven batters.
But as the game went on, Hillsboro made strides against Conley. In the fourth, Tena Loewen led off with the team?s first base hit, stole second base on a controversial call, then advanced to third on a bunt single by Stephanie Sanders. But with runners on first and third and no outs, Conley struck out Sammy Koons, got Danae Bina to pop out to the catcher on a bunt attempt, then struck out Krista Reimer to escape the threat with no damage done.
Hillsboro challenged again in the sixth inning. Sanders singled with one out, Koons then flied to left for the second out, then Bina walked to put runners on first and second. This time Conley retired Reimer on a pop foul to the catcher for the third out.
Meanwhile, Weber was hobbling Southeast, but with solid defense instead of strikeouts. Weber gave up a single to Conley with two outs in the first inning, but Conley was thrown out by catcher Allie Faul on an attempt to steal second base. It turned out to be Southeast?s last hit as well as its first. Weber walked a batter in the second inning and one batter reached on a fielding error in the fourth for SES?s only base runners.
When Weber retired Southeast in order in the top of the seventh, the prospect of extra innings seemed imminent.
Faul led off the bottom of the inning as Conley?s 12th strikeout victim of the game. Weber, one of the few Trojans to hit Conley with some consistency, delivered her second base hit of the game — this one of the infield variety. Amy Bartel, who had struggled at the plate to that point, hit a soft line drive over the third baseman. The ball dropped just inside the chalk and Bartel ended up on second with a double as Weber pulled into third base.
Nikkel, who had struck out twice and flied out in her three previous plate appearances, then delivered the regional title with her solid single to left field. It was only Hillsboro?s fourth base hit of the contest.
The win gives Hillsboro a ticket to the Class 3A tournament in Manhattan next week with an 18-4 record, including a bye win in the first round of regional play.
Semifinals vs. Marion — Hillsboro made it to the championship game with a 10-0 win over Marion in the early semifinals game Tuesday. Tena Loewen pitched a one-hit shutout for the victory as Marion?s season ended with a 6-16 record.
Hillsboro scored three runs in the opening inning against pitcher Raelene Allen, then added three runs in the second and four more in the fourth to reach the 10-run lead. Chelsea Voth relieved Allen with two outs in the fourth and got what turned out to be Hillsboro?s the final out in the bottom of the fourth after giving up two more hits and a walk.