The Highland Bulldogs checked off the majority of a long list of goals for the softball season, which started off with a run of 22 wins without a loss.
But the Bulldogs’ 5-2 loss to Herrin in the semifinals of the Columbia 2A Sectional on Wednesday left them just shy of two notable milestones from their list — namely, their 30th win and a state tournament berth.
Whatever disappointment the players feel today, says head coach Greg Exton, will fade away to the pride in their other achievements.
“We won the Triad Tournament, we won 29 games, we won the conference and a regional championship,” Exton said. “I told them don’t hang your heads too low for too long. We had a heck of a year.”
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Herrin (32-4) will advance to the sectional final against the Columbia Eagles (28-4). Highland’s season is over at 29-4.
Three of Herrin’s runs were unearned, as were both of Highland’s, overshadowing what was an otherwise spirited pitcher’s dual between Bulldogs senior Aubrey Hacke and the Tigers’ Calli Sutcliffe.
Hacke allowed six Herrin hits and walked four, but struck out 13. Highland got seven hits off Sutcliffe while striking out four times.
For Sutcliffe, the win was retribution for the Bulldogs knocking her team out in the sectional semifinal last season.
“We wanted the win because we wanted revenge on them. That got us going,” she said. “They ruined our season last year and we were waiting for this time to come around again.”
A couple clutch hits and a heads up play by the Herrin catcher made the difference in the game.
Highland took the lead in the top of the second inning on an RBI single by Hannah Meiner. Herrin responded in the third with a run-scoring double by Makayla Smothers, who then scored on a triple by Sutcliffe.
Highland’s Reily Kassay basically stole a run in the fifth when she caught the Herrin defense not paying attention and scored from second on an infield hit. That made the score 3-2.
The Bulldogs threatened again in the sixth when Hannah Sullens reached base as the tying run with one out. A sharp ground ball by Kassay was fielded by the shortstop who stepped on second base for the unassisted out, but over-threw first in an attempt to get the double play.
Kassay tried to advance to second, but was caught in a run down by Herrin catcher Beth Meadows, who backed up the throw to first.
“To me the key play was our catcher running down that overthrow to get that girl at second,” said Herrin coach Jim Kowzan. “At that time it it was a one-run game and we ended that rally.”
The Tigers responded with two sixth-inning runs to cinch the victory.