Other than a perfect game, the only way Highland senior Aubrey Hacke could have topped her one-hitter from 48 hours earlier was to throw a no-hitter against long-time conference-rival Triad.
Hacke did just that. The left-handed ace was brilliant en route to firing her first no-no of the season. Junior catcher Lauren Baer drilled a solo home run in the second inning, and Hacke and her defense made sure that was enough as the Lady Bulldogs blanked the visiting Knights 1-0 on April 19 at Highland High School.
“You couldn’t ask for anything better than that,” Highland coach Greg Exton, whose team remained perfect on the season at 15-0, including 4-0 in the Mississippi Valley Conference. “They played good defense after that, and Aubrey threw a no-hitter and made that one run stand up. We expected this team to be a really, really team good but to start 15-0 is probably not what a lot of people were expecting.”
Hacke has been close before this season with two- and three-hitters and even fired a one-hitter in an 11-0 victory over visiting Civic Memorial on April 17.
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“It’s very exciting; (the Knights) are a very good team and they really came out to play today,” Hacke said. “And I had great defense today. You don’t get a no-hitter without your defense, so that’s a testament to them. I had a little loss of control with my fastball and trying to find it, but I found my release point, and towards the end, I got better.”
Hacke got some key help from her defense. The best was when sophomore shortstop Lily Garbett dove to her right to snag of a hard-hit ground ball and then threw from her knees to senior first baseman Hannah Miener, who scooped the one-hopper to end the second inning. Baer also gunned out an attempted base stealer with the help of a one-motion tag from Garbett. Highland also turned a 9-3 (right fielder Addison Rinderer to Miener) double play.
Hacke walked three and struck out three to keep her record spotless at 8-0 while lowering her ERA to 1.367 and her WHIP to .837.
Triad’s Kari Sarhage was also sharp in the circle, yielding just the one earned run on five hits and one walk while striking out five.
In the second inning, Sarhage got ahead of Baer in the count at 1-2, but that did not faze HHS’ junior catcher as Baer pummeled Sarhage’s fourth offering so hard that it not only cleared the new closer and shorter fence, but it also cleared the original taller and deeper fence in center field for the only run Hacke and the Bulldogs really needed.
“Lauren Baer didn’t need that second fence we put up, because it was over both of them,” Exton said.
Baer said she does not mind hitting behind in the count.
“For some reason, I am just better hitting in late counts; I guess I just get more scrappy,” said Baer, who hit homers in consecutive days to move into a tie for the team lead with Miener and Garbett with three apiece. “I would rather have two strikes on me, because then I have the mindset that I am always swinging. I am just really happy to pull through with that, because I have been in a little bit of a slump, and I think it was my time to come out of it. People were joking afterward that we didn’t need to move the fence in.”
Hacke added, “Without that, we would probably still be playing.”
Also for Highland, senior second baseman Peyton Holzinger went 2-for-2 and Hacke (double) and Rinderer each had one hit.
Keys to success
Exton said the team success not only comes from talent, but it also comes team camaraderie and everybody doing their part.
“I think this team is so much more together than we were last year,” he said. “They are so much more bonded this year, with everybody pulling for everybody. It’s awesome.”
There have been plenty of blowout wins this season, as evidenced by the fact that Highland has outscored its opponents by the eye-popping margin of 125 to 28. But the Bulldogs have also shown that they are plenty of capable of beating good teams in tight ballgames, such as 2-1 over Mater Dei, 5-2 over Alton Marquette, 4-2 over Mascouah, 3-1 over Gillespie, and now 1-0 over Triad.
“We’ve had a few tight ones here lately, but they’re just finding a way to get it done every time. There are so many different players that are contributing,” Exton said. “It might be the first two or three in the order that are doing the job for a few games, then all of a sudden it might be the last two or three in the order that are making it happen.”
Exton said setting goals and striving to reach them can also play a key role in a team’s success.
“The players and coaches all set up some goals for this year, and one of the goals I made was to go undefeated,” Exton said. “That is the last goal of the season, and if you have done that, you have accomplished all of your other goals. We didn’t really put together a good list of goals last season, and I think it’s really important for all teams to set goals.”
True to his word, Exton, who has been battling cancer, has been at every game and has no doubt that will continue to be the case.
“I feel great,” Exton said. “I am ready to be back full go, but the doctors haven’t released me yet. But I think it is getting close.”
In a special couple of minutes after the game, players and coaches from both Highland and Triad gathered around Coach Exton and said prayers.
Highland 13 Roxana 3
On April 18 at Roxana, HHS junior left fielder Kourtney Zobrist went a perfect 3-for-3 (one triple) and drove in four runs, while Miener also pounded out three hits, Baer crushed a three-run homer, and junior right-hander Kirsten Plocher (2.18 ERA) earned the win in the circle to stay unblemished at 7-0 on the year.
Highland banged out 14 hits and scored all 13 of its runs in the first three innings with three runs in the first and four in the second before finishing with a six-spot in the third.
Baer gave Highland the lead for good with a two-out three-run homer to center in the first inning to score Zobrist (single) and Miener (single).
Phoebe Booher hit a two-run shot to left in the bottom half to trim the Bulldogs’ lead to 3-2.
But Highland answered with a four-run second and six-run third.
In the second, Zobrist delivered the big blow by slicing a two-out two-run triple the opposite way to right to plate junior center fielder Hannah Sullens (single), and Rinderer (single). Miener and Hacke each added a run-scoring single in the frame to push the lead to 7-2.
Back-to-back inning-opening errors by Roxana helped ignite the Bulldogs’ six-run third. Rinderer and Zobrist each slapped a two-run single, Garbett knocked in one on a ground out, and Hacke closed out the scoring fest with a run-scoring single to drive in Miener (single).
Highland 11 Civic Memorial 0
Other than allowing a first-inning single, Hacke was unhittable en route to blanking the Eagles on April 17 at HHS. After allowing a walk and a single to back-to-back CM hitters with one out in the first inning, Hacke was so dominant that she sat down 14 batters in a row before walking the leadoff hitter in the sixth. She struck out 12 of those batters, nine straight at one point.
Hacke also received plenty of offensive support as the Bulldogs banged out 12 hits, half of which went for extra bases.
Highland roughed up CM’s Ryan Allison for 10 runs (six earned) on 11 hits and two walks in 5 2/3 innings.
Hacke, Rinderer, Zobrist and Garbett all collected two hits apiece. Holzinger drove in a game-high three runs while Hacke, Miener and Rinderer each provided a pair of runs batted in.
Highland scored the only three runs it really needed in the second frame, tacked on a single tally in the fifth, then exploded for a seven-run sixth to bring the game to an end an inning early.
In HHS’ three-run second, Hacke helped herself by crunching a two-run triple to center field to plate Garbett (single) and Baer (walk), and Holzinger, the very next hitter, hit a sacrifice fly to right to make it 3-0.
Kassay created the single run in the fifth as she doubled, stole third, and scored on Rinderer’s RBI ground out to second.
The Bulldogs pounded out six hits, four of their six extra-base hits, and used one CM error to erupt for a seven-run finale in the sixth.
Holzinger drove home two runs with a double to left-center field and Sullens followed with a RBI single to center and the gap widened to 7-0.
Highland was just getting warmed up. After the second out was made, the Bulldogs finished the game in fine form with three consecutive extra-base hits. Rinderer and Zobrist belted successive RBI doubles to balloon the lead to 9-0 and prompt CM to make a change in the circle.
Kaitlynn Wrenn came in to relieve Allison but it helped none as Miener slugged the third offering from Wrenn over the fence in left-center field for a walk-off two-run bomb. It was Miener’s third round-tripper of the spring, which moved her into a tie for the team lead with Garbett.