In the regional championship, it was a bunt that was the difference maker. In the sectional semifinal, it was a blast. Or two of them to be exact as the Hillsboro softball team picked up a 5-2 victory over Pleasant Plains at the Litchfield Sectional on Thursday, May 23.
Thanks to the hard work of Derek Odle on the Litchfield High School softball field and the efforts of LHS softball coach Jessica Ball, Thursday’s game started just a half hour late despite torrential rainfall the night before.
Both starters, Hillsboro’s Kai Hanner and Plains’ Kylie Nation, would cruise through the first two innings, setting down six straight each. It would be Nation who would get the first hit, picking up a one-out single in the third, which was followed by a walk to Sierra Nation. Both runners would move up a base on a sacrifice bunt by Brianna Green, but Topper shortstop Shelby Houchlei would make a nice play on a grounder to short to end the inning in the next at-bat.
Plains looked to make it a quick inning in the bottom of the third and got the first two outs without anyone reaching base. Riley Hemken would keep the inning going with a single though, bringing up Haley Major, who drove in the game-winner in the regional championship.
Two pitches into her at-bat, Major launched a high pop fly just to the left of home plate. Plains’ catcher made an attempt on the pop up, but somehow the ball evaded her glove and fell harmlessly into foul territory.
Major made the most of her new life at the plate, ripping a two-run home run to left-center field to make it 2-0 in Hillsboro’s favor.
The Toppers weren’t done yet. Katie Schaake would single and steal second to put herself into scoring position. Hanner would then single to drive in Schaake, making it a 3-0 ball game before Plains got the final out on a long fly ball to center by Shelby Houchlei.
The visitors from the Sangamo Conference would threaten again in the fourth with another single and a walk, but Hanner settled down and struck out the final two batters to end the inning. Plains would finally get on the board in the fifth though, cutting the lead to 3-2 after three straight singles and a two-out, two-run double by Hannah Stults.
Hillsboro would get those runs back in the bottom half of the inning on a near carbon copy of their third inning performance. Hemken would single with one out and Major would pick up her second two-run homer of the game to make it 5-2.
Hanner would take over from there, setting down six of the next seven batters, with a walk to Sierra Nation, the only baserunner Plains would get in the final two innings. The St. Louis University-bound hurler would finish the game with ten strikeouts and six hits allowed.
Both Major and Hemken would finish up with a pair of hits, while Hanner, Schaake and Chloe Beck all added singles to give Hillsboro seven for the game.
The victory would be Hillsboro’s 28th of the season as they advanced to Saturday’s sectional final against Southwestern.
May 23 at Litchfield
Class 2A Sectional Semifinal
Pleasant Plains 000 020 0 2 6 0
Hillsboro 003 020 x 5 7 1
Plains IP R ER H K BB
L-Nation 6 5 5 7 4 1
Hillsboro IP R ER H K BB
W-Hanner 7 2 2 6 10 4
Multiple Hits: Pleasant Plains - Hannah Stults (2-3); Hillsboro - Haley Major (2-3, 2R, 4RBI); Riley Hemken (2-2, 2R). 2B: Pleasant Plains - Hannah Stults 1. HR: Hillsboro - Haley Major 2.
Records: Hillsboro (28-3); Pleasant Plains (15-15).