This year has already been the most successful season in the history of Hillsboro High School softball, in terms of total wins, but on Tuesday, May 14, the Lady Hiltoppers took the next step in making 2019 a historic year for the program.
In a dominant 10-0 six-inning shutout of Carlinville, the Lady Hiltoppers advanced to the regional championship game for the fourth straight year, where they will have a chance to score their first regional title since 2006.
The win upped Hillsboro's record to program-best 26-3 and the class of 2019's win total to 84, the most of any class since Coach Bret Tuetken took over in 1996.
It wasn't just a significant moment for the Toppers as a team though. Senior Kai Hanner, who has been a big part of those 84 wins, achieved a personal milestone by picking up her 800th career strikeout.
Hanner, who will continue her softball career at St. Louis University, entered the game with 790 strikeouts. With one out in the fifth inning, the Topper ace would pick up her tenth K of the game, giving her 800 for her career. She would go on to strike out three of the next five batters, upping her total to 803 to this point.
Hanner would also contribute with her bat, picking up an RBI in the third inning that extended the Toppers' one run lead, which came when Haley Major reached on an error and later scored on a sacrifice fly by Katie Schaake.
Major started off the hitting in the third inning too, blasting a double then moving to third on a wild pitch. After Carlinville got the first out of the inning, Hanner doubled home Major to make it 2-0.
A wild pitch would put Hanner on third base and Shelby Houchlei would drive her in when she reached on an error by the Carlinville first baseman.
Houchlei would take second on the error and would go from second to home on a single by Sheridan Lyerla, who took second on the throw to the plate.
Another single, this time by Chloe Beck, moved Lyerla to third and Alexis Wolf walked to load the bases. Zoe Honchell would hit a ground ball to second in her at-bat, but Carlinville's throw to the plate was too late to get Lyerla and the score increased to 5-0 with the bases still loaded.
Carlinville would get out of the jam though, getting the next two batters on a strikeout and a pop up to second to lessen the damage.
As Hanner continued to mow down batter after batter, with a two-out single in the third by Morgan Broaddus, Carlinville's only hit, the Cavaliers tried to keep it close. Starter Dani Westnedge would give up just two hits in the fourth and fifth, a double to Houchlei and a single to Beck, but the score remained 5-0 going into the bottom of the sixth.
Apparently by then, the Toppers had seen enough. Hillsboro would send eight batters to the plate, with all eight reaching to score five runs and end the game in the sixth inning.
Major and Schaake would reach first with a single and a walk, followed by Hanner loading the bases on an attempted fielder's choice. Shelby Houchlei would drive in two runs with a single and a second straight base hit by Lyerla would load the bases again.
Chloe Beck would reach on an error by the Carlinville right fielder, which allowed Hanner's courtesy runner, Meagan Jorn, to score and make it 8-0. Wolf would walk to push Houchlei across home plate and Honchell would contribute one last single to make it 10-0 and end the game an inning early.
On the day, Hillsboro outhit the Cavaliers 11-1, with Beck, Lyerla, Major and Houchlei all picking up two hits apiece.
The Lady Hiltoppers will have a familiar foe to contend with on Saturday in the regional championship as Gillespie defeated Staunton on Wednesday, May 15, in the other regional semifinal.
The Toppers have played the Miners in the regional championship each of the last three years, falling to their South Central Conference foe each time. Hillsboro will see if the fourth time is the charm on Saturday, with the first pitch set for 11 a.m.
May 14 at Gillespie
Class 2A Gillespie Regional
Carlinville 000 000 0 1 5
Hillsboro 104 005 10 11 0
Carlinville IP R ER H K BB
L-Westnedge 6 10 6 11 1 2
Hillsboro IP R ER H K BB
W-Hanner 6 0 0 1 13 2
Multiple Hits: Hillsboro - Chloe Beck (2-3, 1RBI), Sheridan Lyerla (2-4, 2R, 2RBI), Haley Major (2-4, 3R), Shelby Houchlei (2-4, 2R, 2RBI). 2B: Hillsboro - Haley Major 1, Kai Hanner 1, Shelby Houchlei 1.
Records: Carlinville (8-16); Hillsboro (26-3).