Softball ride turns bumpy at the end; Trojans fourth

Hillsboro?s Cinderella softball season finished with a ?Twilight Zone? twist as the Trojans dropped a 12-2 decision to Medi?cine Lodge in the third-place game at the Class 3A state tournament Saturday in Manhattan.

Forced back into action a mere 30 minutes after dropping a 2-1 heart-wrenching loss in the semifinals to Riverton, the Trojans appeared to have been transported into another dimension as they took on the tournament?s No. 1 seed in the conso?la????tion matchup.

This game turned downright bizarre for both teams.

For Hillsboro, the bats went cold (two hits for the game) and the Trojans suffered uncharacteristic lapses in the field and on the base paths, including a double-steal attempt in the fourth inning that resulted in runners being thrown out at both second base and home.

Meanwhile, Medicine Lodge jumped on Trojan ace Courtney Weber?who had been outstanding in the post-season?for five hits and four runs in the opening inning.

Franny Gottsch came in to relieve her with only one out and ended the assault?until the Indians exploded for a six-hit, seven-run fourth inning that brought Weber back to the mound for a reprise appearance.

By then the score was 12-0.

It didn?t help that the umpires crew stirred up fans and players with a handful of illegal-pitch calls against Indian pitcher Taylor Catlin, who appeared rattled at several points in the contest?particularly in the fourth inning, when she issued consecutive walks followed by consecutive wild pitches that enabled Gottsch to score Hillsboro?s first run of the game.

Coach Stephanie Sinclair said her team?s mental letdown following the semifinal loss, plus the difficulty of getting advance information about the Medicine Lodge hitters contributed to the lopsided finale.

?After playing Riverton, and being so close and not winning that game, I was thinking the girls might come out batting flat against Medicine Lodge,? Sinclair said. ?I just didn?t expect them to give up as many hits.

?And yet, there was no way we could have been as prepared for Medicine Lodge as we were for Riverton,? she added. ?We couldn?t scout both teams at the tournament, and we had trouble getting information from their league opponents.?

Semifinals vs. Riverton

A handful of untimely errors transformed an otherwise outstanding performance into heart?break during Hillsboro?s 2-1 semi?finals loss to Riverton on Saturday morning.

Hillsboro got the jump on Riverton?the defending Class 4A champions?with a run in the bottom of the first inning.

Taylor Nikkel led off with a single, then swiped second and third base with aggressive base running that fired up the team and its fans.

But Nikkel got caught between third and home on a bunt by Tena Loewen and was tagged out as Loewen made it to first base.

After Steph Sanders and Krista Reimer singled on either side of a Sammy Koons strikeout to load the bases, Loewen crossed the plate on a fielding error by the Rams? shortstop on a ground ball hit by Franny Gottsch. Weber then struck out, leaving the bases loaded.

The lost opportunity for additional runs came back to haunt the Trojans later in the game.

Meanwhile, Weber on the mound combined with Allie Faul behind the plate for a masterful handling of the Riverton hitters, allowing only two hits through four innings.

Then, with one out in the fifth, the Rams? Ambur Sim?mons singled off shortstop Sander?s outstretched glove. The next batter grounded to third, but Koons couldn?t corral Gottsch?s throw in the dirt, giving the Rams runners on first and third. Simmons then tied the score on a sacrifice fly to right by Shelby Mitchell.

Riverton pushed its second run across in the sixth. Pitcher Haliegh Sills singled with one out and scored with two outs when Sanders? throw to first for the third out sailed off target, enabling pinch-runner Taylor Price to score.

Hillsboro got Koons to third base in the bottom of the inning on a double and ground out, but couldn?t bring her home. The Trojans then went down in order in the seventh.

?We had that game won,? coach Stephanie Sinclair said, had it not been for the errors.

She credited Weber and Faul for putting her team in position to win. ?I told them exactly what we needed, especially to get the top of the lineup out,? Sinclair said. ?They pitched exactly where we wanted them to pitch and were very effective.?

But Riverton?s Sills was equal to the task. After a three-hit first inning, the Trojans didn?t manage another base hit until Koons? double with one out in the sixth.

First round vs. TMP

Hillsboro, playing with confidence against the team that ousted them in the first round of the state tournament a year ago, turned the tables on Thomas More Prep with an 8-2 victory on Friday evening.

The Trojans jumped to a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first. Tena Loewen scored Hillsboro?s first run on an error. Courtney Weber followed later with a two-run, bases-loaded single that drove home Stephanie Sanders and Krista Reimer, who had both singled earlier in the inning.

Those three runs turned out to be enough run support for Weber, but the Monarchs stayed in contention until late in the game.

TMP responded to Hillsboro?s 3-0 start with a run in the top of the second. Hillsboro responded with a run in the bottom of the inning on Sanders? second RBI hit of the game.

TMP scored again in the top of the third, but could have gotten more if Weber hadn?t got of a bases-loaded jam late in the inning by throwing her first strikeout.

HHS expanded the lead to 6-2 in the bottom of the fourth inning with a pair of runs on a bloop single by Sanders that scored Amy Bartel and Taylor Nikkel, who both had singled earlier in the inning.

Hillsboro made it 8-2 with two more runs in the sixth. Loewen scored on a single by Franny Gottsch and Sanders scored on Reimer?s sacrifice fly to left field.

For the game, Sanders went 4-for-4 with three RBIs. Weber picked up the pitching victory, scattering eight hits over seven innings.

Wrap-up?Hillsboro finished with a program-best 22-3 record on the field, and were awarded an additional win because of a first-round bye as the top seed in the regional tournament.

The team set a record with 18 straight wins to start the season. After becoming the first team to make a return trip to state after qualifying for the first time a year ago with a core of freshmen, this year?s squad became the first team to advance beyond the first round.

?I?m still overwhelmed,? coach Stephanie Sinclair said of her team?s accomplishments this season. ?You expect to do well, but at sometimes they did better than I expected.

?I?m very proud of the girls,? she added. ?There were some games that we came back to win; I probably will never think we?re out of a game ever again. They showed a lot of character. There isn?t a player on this team I would trade.?

With only two players departing from the primary lineup rotation, the Trojans appear poised for another strong season in 2011.

?As they were getting their (state) medals, they were talking about next year, wanting to come back and do a little bit better,? Sinclair said. ?The girls? goal is to get back to state again somehow. They realize now that a good (regular-season) record can really help you at the tournament.?

More from Hillsboro Free Press
Senior Scribbles (Nov. 4, 2009)
A musical jam is scheduled Nov. 12, and Theater Day is Nov....
Read More