NASHVILLE — It was a regular-season game that had the feel of at least a sectional championship.
Taryn Pena and Brianna Weilbacher hit back-to-back homers in the first inning as the Columbia Eagles beat the Nashville Hornettes 3-0 Saturday in a battle of two softball teams that could make deep postseason runs in their respective classes.
The Eagles are ranked No. 3 in Class 3A, while the Hornettes are ranked No. 1 in Class 2A.
"We've been talking all year about how important it is to take control from the beginning, and that's what we did today," Columbia coach Rhonda Major said. "I'm really proud of the girls, the way they stayed in it.
"We fought every inning, and that's all I can ask of them. I think it showed a lot about our kids today."
Weilbacher finished with a four-hitter on the mound. She stuck out 10 and walked one.
Weilbacher worked out of trouble in each of the last four innings.
The Eagles stranded six runners, including the bases loaded in the fifth, over those four innings.
"She did a great job today in the circle for us," Major said of Weilbacher. "She just bore down in the fifth inning when they had the bases loaded. She just kept doing what she was doing and didn't get into panic mode. I think that shows a lot."
The Eagles (29-2) conclude the regular season against Civic Memorial on Tuesday.
Major would like to schedule another game before the start of the Class 3A Columbia Regional the following week, but she hasn't found any willing opponents with an open date.
"As far as the way we're playing at the end of the year, we're doing the little things, we're playing great defense and Bri is doing a great job on the mound," Major said. "I think today was a real good test and shows what this team is capable of if they continue to work hard."
The Hornettes (32-2) open the postseason against either Chester or host Red Bud on Tuesday in the Class 2A Red Bud Regional.
"I can see why Columbia has won as many games as they have," Nashville coach Dempsey Witte said. "Their lineup is very good, their pitching is very good and they don't have very many weaknesses.
"This was a great game for us to play. It was a nice tune-up before the postseason."
Nashville pitcher Maci Ingram struck out the first two batters she faced to start the game, but then Pena hit her fourth homer of the season and Weilbacher followed with her metro-east-leading 13th homer of the season.
"I knew she had good spin, so I just wanted to make contact," Weilbacher said. "It was a changeup. It was a little high, so I just saw it and I hit it."
Weilbacher said she believed that was the first time that she and Pena have hit back-to-back homers this season.
"I've gone back-to-back with Rachel (Garcia), but not Taryn," Weilbacher said. "It is fun (hitting behind Pena). She gets on, I drive her in and Rachel drives me in. It's kind of like a circle, a big circle."
Weilbacher said being staked to a quick lead took a lot of pressure off her on the mound.
"It's nice to get some runs," Weilbacher said. "It builds your confidence and makes it a little easier to go out there."
The Eagles added a run in the fifth as Pena doubled to center field and scored on a single to right by Weilbacher.
Ingram allowed only five hits. She struck out eight and walked two.
The Hornettes had several scoring opportunities.
Jordi Harre reached on an infield single with one out in the first inning, but Hannah Young hit a line drive with a hit-and-run called to Courtney Weilbacher in center field that turned into a double play.
In the fifth inning, Nellie Snead drew a one-out walk and Daley Buchanan singled and Deidra Holzhauer walked with two outs.
Brianna Weilbacher got a strikeout to end the threat.
"I thought we took some good at-bats. I thought our girls battled and put the ball in play," Witte said. "But, we hit it right at them when we did put it in play and we left the bases loaded there in an inning. We stranded a runner at third in another inning.
"We had our chances. We just couldn't get the timely hit today."
Contact reporter Steve Korte at email@example.com or 239-2522.