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 Kristin 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.
?Conley?s rise ball messed with us a little,? coach Stephanie Sinclair said. ?As soon as we started to fly out later in the game, I felt we were going to get some hits.?
She turned out to be right. 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. After Koons flied to left for the second out, 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 the Southeast bats, but with solid defense more than strikeouts. Weber allowed no hits and only three base runners: two who reached on errors and one who walked.
When Weber retired South?east 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. 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 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. It was only Hills?boro?s fifth base hit of the contest.
?Getting the base runners at the end of the game came from confidence and experience,? Sinclair said. ?The girls really wanted to get the game won in the seventh inning.
?As Taylor came to bat, I asked her to get a fly ball for us to win the game,? she added. ?Better than a fly ball, she drove it up the middle. Taylor?s been through a lot and that toughness helped her with the game-winning hit.?
The win gives Hillsboro a ticket to the Class 3A tournament in Manhattan next week with an 19-4 record, including a bye win in the first round of regional play.
?Experience was the key to this championship,? Sinclair said. ?Our defense looked the best it has been. The pitchers hit their marks. I could not be more proud of all the girls.?
Semifinal vs. Marion?Hills?boro made it to the championship game with a 10-0 win over Marion in the early semifinal game Tuesday.
Tena Loewen, who pitched a three-inning perfect game against the Warriors May 10, threw a two-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.
Loewen starred at the plate, going 3-for-3 with a triple and three runs scored.
Chelsea Voth relieved Allen with two outs in the fourth and got what turned out to be Hills?boro?s final out in the bottom of the fourth after giving up two more hits and a walk.
State?Hillsboro will take the field at Twin Oaks at 7 p.m. Friday as the No. 5 seed with a 19-4 record against Fron?tenac, the No. 4 seed at 19-3. The winner of that game will play the winner of No. 1 Caney Valley (20-1) and Marys?ville (12-11) in the semifinal at 10 a.m. Saturday.
On the other side of the bracket, No. 2 Osage City (20-3) will take on Halstead (14-9) in a first-round game at 5 p.m. Friday, while No. 3 McClouth (20-3) will play No. 6 Larned (14-9 at 7 p.m.
The semifinal game will be at 10 a.m. Saturday. The third-place game is scheduled for noon Saturday and the championship game is set for 1 p.m.
Trojan coach Stephanie Sinclair said good defense will be critical to her team?s success.
?The teams that go out and play good defense usually come out on top in state,? she said. ?There is no room for errors.?