If there was any question as to why Highland got the top seed of the otherwise tight Civic Memorial 3A Softball Regional, the Bulldogs put that discussion to rest Tuesday.
Highland delivered a 14-1, short-game thrashing of Jerseyville in the first semifinal game with a display of hitting and an outstanding pitching performance by freshman Kirsten Plocher.
Going the full five, Plocher gave up four hits and one walk while striking out three to keep Jerseyville off the scoreboard until there was one out remaining. A solo home run broke up her shutout, but Plocher still hiked her season record to 7-2 while dipping her miniscule ERA to 1.65.
Highland head coach Brittne Zobrist said she expects big things from Plocher, despite her being a freshman.
“She’s solid every time we put her on the mound,” said Zobrist, who notched her first win as the head coach of her alma mater. “We know what we’re going to get every time she’s out there. We have a couple nice pitchers in the dugout, and it’s nice to just be able to kind of pick one out of a hat and know that you are going to be in the game no matter what.”
Plocher was also backed by a stout defense that played an error-free game and made some impressive plays behind her.
“The defense really held up their end of the game for her,” Zobrist said. “We had some nice plays by Reily (Kassay) at third and Hannah (Miener) at first. The outfield was solid again.”
The Highland bats were just as impressive as its pitcher and defense. Smacking 10 hits, the Lady Bulldogs’ offense helped Plocher settle into the game with a four-run first inning.
HHS, which was also helped out by six Jerseyville errors, erupted for five runs in each of the third and fourth frames, so the Lady Bulldogs did not even have to bat in the fifth inning.
“Once [Plocher] steps on the mound, she’s pretty much in her zone,” Zobrist said. “It doesn’t really matter what the score is; she continues to focus on throwing strikes, hitting her spots, mixing it up and doing her job.”
Highland’s biggest offensive contributors were senior Mallory Rutz, junior Lauren Wright and sophomore Reily Kassay, who each had two hits.
On a sacrifice attempt in the first inning, Rutz reached first on an error and came around to score later that inning. She finished the game an RBI double in her last at-bat in the fourth.
Kassay drove in a run and scored twice while Wright also crossed home plate twice.
The rest of HHS’ lineup also provided plenty of extra support at the plate.
Plocher, fellow freshman Kourtney Zobrist and sophomore Aubrey Hacke all drove in two runs apiece to share game-high honors, while sophomores Hannah Miener, who scored twice, and Peyton Holzinger each hit a double and knocked in one run.
Coach Zobrist said she was pleased with the offense’s overall performance.
“We were patient, but we were still aggressive,” Zobrist said. “We’ve been doing that better later; hitting the pitch, squaring it up and really driving the ball.”
Highland will face Alton Marquette for the regional championship at 11 a.m Saturday.
Alton Marquette 3, Triad 0
Despite a sharp outing from pitcher Kari Sarhage, the Triad Knights fell 3-0 to Marquette in the regional’s second semifinal.
“I thought she did well; I thought they had some timely hits and capitalized on some errors,” said Triad head coach Kris Kleeman. “One to nothing or three to nothing, it really at that point is just all a matter of the fact that we didn’t score any runs.”
Sarhage went the full seven innings and gave six hits and one earned run during her time on the mound, but her offense gave her little support.
Triad was able to get three hits in the game, but could not get a runner past second base. The team’s biggest scoring threat came in the fifth inning, when it got two hits but was ultimately shutdown by Marquette pitcher Meghan Schorman.
Schorman struck out five in seven innings and walked two. Her shutout kept Marquette in the lead from the fourth inning onward.
Triad’s one through four hitters went 1-for-12 against Schorman. No Triad hitter had more than one hit off the freshman.
“One to nothing I thought we were doing alright,” Kleeman said. “Three to nothing I thought maybe we chased a little more than we should. Unfortunately, that’s how that goes. You get yourself down in a hole and you’re trying to make up all three runs at once rather than getting them one at a time.”
HHS 9, Taylorville 2
Last Thursday, freshman Addison Rinderer gave an ace performance to lead the Lady Bulldogs to the convincing win. Rinderer dominated the Tornadoes with a dominant complete-game outing, surrendering just one earned run on two hits and one walk while punching out eight.
Just like her first start in an 11-1 win over Metro-East Lutheran on May 7, Rinderer took advantage of her second opportunity, and in the process improved to 2-0 and drop her microscopic ERA to 1.03.
“The opportunity I got at Taylorville was a good one, but I was kinda surprised at first and nervous,” Rinderer said. “Some pitches I had working were my screwball fastball and changeup. I took advantage of that to show them what I am capable of and how I can handle pitching a whole game against a good hitting team.”
Highland’s offense also came to play, banging out 10 hits with four of them going for extra bases.
Hacke, Kassay and Wright all collected two hits to spearhead the Lady Bulldogs’ offensive attack.
Hacke went a perfect 2-for-2 at the dish with three walks, one double, two RBIs and three runs scored while Kassay went 2-for-3 with a double, one walk, one RBI and one run and Wright went 2-for-4 with a triple, a double and one run.
In addition for HHS, Holzinger drove in a game-high three runs.
“We put a lot of bats square on the ball,” said Highland coach Brittne Zobrist. “The girls were patient and hit their pitch. The defense was stellar today. Aub (Hacke) made some great plays in right field to haul in some fly balls. Addy (Rinderer) pitched outstanding. We looked great today. That’s the kind of momentum we needed heading into tomorrow and the playoffs.”
Trailing 2-0 after Taylorville scored both runs (only one earned) in the third, the Lady Bulldogs rallied for four runs in the fifth on a two-run error, a sacrifice fly by Miener and an RBI double by Wright.
Highland added two more runs in the top of the sixth. Holzinger was hit by a pitch with the sacks full to force home Kourtney Zobrist (walk) with the first tally of the inning and Miener smacked an RBI single to bring home Hacke (walk).
HHS built upon its lead with three runs in the seventh. The first two runs crossed home plate on Hacke’s two-run triple to right field with two outs to drive home freshman Hannah Sullens, who was courtesy running for sophomore catcher Jillian Garbett (leadoff single) and Plocher, who drew a one-out walk. That was followed by Kassay’s double to left to plate Hacke.
Collinsville 1, HHS 0
Unfortunately, the offense did not carry over to the regular-season finale the next day as the Lady Bulldogs were shut out after failing to take advantage of five hits and three walks.
“We didn’t capitalize today,” Zobrist said. “Reily (Kassay) got picked off on a missed bunt and run sign. We had runners in position with less than two outs at least three times today and just couldn’t find a hole. Lauren (Wright) got robbed of extra bases by their center fielder. Our defense was decent, although we still had a couple of errors which we need to clean up going into playoffs (Tuesday). We will be fine. Our pitching has been solid all year. We just need to come through with some clutch hits and the game is ours. Their defense shut us down when it mattered most. But now the record is 0-0. It’s a new season. It’s playoff time and anybody can beat anybody. We need to come in turned up and ready to play Highland softball.”
The loss spoiled a stellar start by Plocher, who was saddled with the tough loss despite going the distance and yielding just an unearned run on four hits and one walk to go with one strikeout.
Addison Wickisel got the win for Collinsville. She tossed all seven innings of shutout ball, striking out three while conceding five hits and three walks.
The Kahoks got the game’s lone run of the ballgame in the fourth inning on an RBI single from Alex Holten to score Kassidy Smith, who drew a one-out walk and moved into scoring position thanks to a Highland error.