Late rally sinks HHS softball

A one-run lead is never safe in softball, but in state tournament play it can put you one disappointing inning from disaster.

Held comatose for five innings, Frontenac bats came to life for three runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to swipe a first-round victory from Hills?boro Friday evening at the Class 3A tournament at Twin Oaks Sports Complex in Manhattan.

The fifth-seeded Trojans, who came in with a 19-4 record, held the fourth-seeded Raiders (19-3) in check for most of the game behind the pitching of Courtney Weber and some salty defense by her teammates.

But with one out in the sixth and Hillsboro leading, 1-0, the Raiders turned on the switch. Rachel Amershek grounded a single up the middle and Samantha Bonner hit a single to right.

Danielle McBride followed with a two-run double to right-center, and Libby Warrick drove in McBride with a double of her own.

Hillsboro coach Stephanie Sinclair called in shortstop Tena Loewen to pitch. After a bunt single to the first hitter she faced, Loewen struck out the next two batters to end the inning.

But the damage had been done, as the Trojans went down in order in the top of the seventh to end their hope of a tournament run.

?I thought maybe we got a little behind in a couple of counts there, where (Weber) had to throw something a little bit better than she wanted to,? Sinclair said about the sixth.

?It?s tough. They?re trying to do the best they can and I just think Frontenac kind of got a lucky streak?and we didn?t.?

The Trojans missed a couple of opportunities to score additional runs against Raider pitcher Lindsey Gorham.

In the third, the Trojans got-back-to-back singles from Taylor Nikkel and Tena Loewen with two outs. When the Raider defense struggled to handle Loewen?s hit, Nikkel advanced from first to third, then got hung up between third and home for the third out.

Hillsboro scored its lone run in the fifth. After Allie Faul led off with a walk, Weber bunted and reached first on an error. Amy Bartel then popped up a bunt for the first out and Nikkel struck out. Loewen then walked to load the bases.

Faul scored on Stephanie Sanders? infield single, but Sammy Koons flied out to end the inning.

Hillsboro finished with five hits for the game, but hit the ball well through the middle innings?though few went for base hits.

?We hit so many hard balls to the third baseman (Amershek), but she?s just a good player,? Sinclair said. ?She picked up some good balls.?

The Trojan coach said her team played pretty well overall.

?I have a lot of confidence in the kids, but I thought we were a little tight,? she said. ?I thought we might hit a little bit better off that pitcher.?

Except for an odd flurry of three quick errors by Loewen at shortstop?which had no bearing on the game?s outcome?the Trojan defense was solid.

?There was one point in the game when Steph Sanders came off the field and said, ?It is so good to get them out?this is so much fun,?? Sinclair said.

?That was right before the inning when they got the hits, but I?ll never forget that she said that because you always want the kids to enjoy what they?re going and do it well. That was good to hear.?

With the loss, seniors Faul and Nikkel ended their HHS careers.

?We?re definitely going to miss Allie and Taylor,? Sinclair said. ?They just had such a never-give-up kind of attitude. And they?re both great leaders.?

Nikkel finished as a first-team all-league selection for the third straight year. Faul, who improved her batting by 200 points in her second season, was a second-team pick at catcher this spring.

?You never hear Allie complain,? Sinclair said. ?I?m still amazed at the things she can do after just two years of playing.?

In fact, all nine of the Trojan starters received all-league recognition this spring. Nikkel (outfield) and Weber (pitcher) were unanimous picks this year, with Koons (first base), Sanders (second base) and Loewen (utility) joining them on the first team.

Krista Reimer (outfield) and Danae Bina (third base) were second-team selections along with Faul, while Amy Bartel (outfield) received honorable mention.

Beyond the two seniors, all of the above are juniors except for Loewen (sophomore) and Bina (freshman).

?We talked about next year on the bus ride home,? Sanders said, ?including the fact that we?ve got a nice group of freshmen coming in next season.?

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