Wednesday night's game between Southwestern and Hillsboro was everything a softball fan could have wanted as the top two teams in the South Central Conference battled it out in a pitching duel that yielded 22 strikeouts and just five hits.
As far as the result? That was everything a Hillsboro softball fan could have wanted as the Lady Hiltoppers scored the only two runs of the game to finish off a perfect 9-0 mark in the SCC and earn their first outright championship since 2006, when the conference was still separated into two divisions.
Senior pitcher Kai Hanner was lights out against the Piasa Birds, who were co-champs of the SCC last year with Hillsboro and Gillespie. Hanner struck out at least one batter every inning, eventually finishing with 11 Ks, and set down Southwestern in order in six of the seven frames.
Southwestern's only threat came in the sixth inning, when they got their first, and only, hit of the game with a single by Hannah Nixon to lead off the inning.
Sydney Baumgartner then reached on an error and two batters later, Southwestern had loaded the bases with a two-out walk by Bri Roloff. Hanner got out of the jam though, coaxing a ground ball back to the mound to end the threat.
By that point, Hillsboro had already scored both of their runs, with Haley Major crossing the plate both times.
Major led off the bottom of the third inning with a single and moved to second on a sacrifice by Katie Schaake. Hanner would then single to score the Hillsboro sophomore and break up the dueling shutouts.
Two innings later, Major contributed a one-out single, stole second and came around to score on an error by the Southwestern catcher.
Hillsboro would also threaten in the first, loading the bases with one out, and the sixth, when Chloe Beck doubled with one out, but the two runs proved to be plenty for Hanner.
The victory capped off a pretty remarkable regular season for the Lady Hiltoppers, who went 25-3 overall and 9-0 in the South Central Conference. It also marked the 18th consecutive SCC win for Coach Bret Tuetken in all sports, after the Hillsboro girls basketball team also saw an unblemished conference record in 2018-19.
The focus for Hillsboro now turns to the postseason, where the Toppers are looking for their first regional title since 2006. To make that a reality, they will have to beat either Litchfield or Carlinville in the semifinals on Tuesday, followed by a regional championship on Saturday, May 18, in Gillespie against either the host Miners (who beat Hillsboro in the regional title game last year) or the Staunton Bulldogs.
May 8 at Hillsboro
Southwestern 000 000 0 0 1 3
Hillsboro 001 010 x 2 4 1
Southwestern IP R ER H K BB
L-Nixon 6 2 1 1 11 3
Hillsboro IP R ER H K BB
W-Hanner 7 0 0 1 11 1
Multiple Hits: Hillsboro - Haley Major (2-3, 2R). 2B: Hillsboro - Chloe Beck 1.
Records: Hillsboro (25-3, 9-0); Southwestern - (20-2, 8-1).
Class 2A Softball
Monday, May 13
Game 1: 4:30 p.m. - (9) Litchfield at (8) Carlinville
Tuesday, May 14
Game 2: 4:30 p.m. - (2) Hillsboro vs. Winner Game 1
Wednesday, May 15
Game 3: 4:30 p.m. - (4) Gillespie vs. (6) Staunton
Saturday, May 18
Game 4: 11 a.m. - Winner Game 2 vs. Winner Game 3