Highland senior ace Aubrey Hacke overpowerd the Civic Memorial Eagles with a career-high 19 strikeouts in an 8-2 victory in a semifinal of the Class 3A Highland Regional Tuesday at Highland High School.
The Bulldogs (28-3) rallied for six runs — all with two outs — on seven hits in the fifth inning to overcome a slow start offensively, and advance to the championship game of their own regional.
“I told them that you all have heard the old saying that hitting is contagious and it is true,” Highland coach Greg Exton said. “If two or three kids get a hit, the next thing you know everybody feels good about themselves again and then they start hacking the ball all over the place.
“We hit the ball good once we got going, it just took a while to get started.”
Hacke recorded all but two of Eagles’ outs via the strikeout, 13 of them the swing-and-miss variety.
“I have never had 19 strikeouts before; I think my highest for school ball was 15 and that was in the eighth grade regional championship,” said Hacke, who is now 16-1 on the season with a 1.24 ERA.
The University of Nebraska Omaha recruit has two no-hitters and three one-hitters this season.
“Not only is she pitching tremendous, but she is hitting the heck out of the ball, too,” Exton said of Hacke, who also leads the team with a .452 batting average, a 514 on-base average and 11 doubles. “She is just having a great year all the way around, and she is finishing it out right here her senior year, that’s for sure.”
After giving out a two-out free pass in the first inning, the hard-throwing lefty punched out the next seven batters in a row to strike out the side in the first three innings. Hacke also fanned the side in the fifth and seventh.
“The first couple of innings I struggled finding my release point because I hadn’t thrown in a while,” Hacke said. “So when you’re really loose, you snap it hard but you’re not in your groove. After a while, I settled down and I threw harder and better as the game went on; usually that’s my thing.”
Highland outhit the Eagles 14-4 but the game remained scoreless through four innings.
The Bulldogs finally broke through on Addison Rinderer’s two-out RBI single in the fifth. Kourtney Zobrist then singled, Hacke helped herself with a two-run double to right, Lily Garbett hit a run-scoring single to center, Lauren Baer crushed a RBI double to center, and Peyton Holzinger lined a RBI double to left.
Civic Memorial got its only two runs on three hits in the sixth, with junior Susan Buchanan providing the big blow with a two-run triple to right.
However, the Bulldogs answered right back in full in the bottom half as Zobrist sliced a two-run single to right to plate junior Hannah Sullens (single) and senior Reily Kassay (single). Zobrist finished with a game-high three hits.
Highland tied the school record for wins in a single season at 28, which matches the 2010 team.
“It seems like something we’ve been doing all year, tying and breaking records,” Hacke said. “Hopefully, we’ll keep pushing and get further in the postseason and get our 30 wins.”
Highland will try to break the wins record outright in the regional championship, where the Bulldogs will face the winner of Wednesday’s semifinal between Triad and Jerseyville.
The regional title game is set for 11 a.m. Saturday but it may be moved up to Friday afternoon due to a wet weather forecast.
Highland 10, Effingham 2
On Monday, May 22, the Bulldogs hammered out 20 hits — eight of which went for extra bases — and never trailed in the contest en route to dousing the host Effingham Flaming Hearts to end the regular season.
Highland opened the scoring with a single tally in the second before racking up four in the third inning, two in each of the fourth and fifth frames, and then finishing with a single run in the sixth.
The Flaming Hearts, who totaled six hits, scored both of their runs in the fourth.
Baer continued her assault on pitchers of late after going a perfect 4-for-4 with a home run, two doubles and three runs batted in. She doubled in the second which led to the Bulldogs’ first run. Next, Baer walloped a two-run homer to center in the third before finishing with a double in the fifth that led to an 8-2 HHS lead.
“Personally, I had been in a hitting slump,” Baer said. “I was over swinging and getting under the ball but after extra reps and extra hitting times with my hitting coach (Brett Swip, who is also Collinsville’s head softball coach), I finally leveled out my swing again and starting swinging at the first good pitch I got. I had been swinging late in the count which is normally when the pitchers throw their best pitches.”
Miener, Zobrist, Rinderer and Holzinger each collected two hits.
Miener knocked in a pair of runs. She socked a leadoff home run the opposite way to right in the fourth, and later pulled a run-scoring single to left in the fifth.
Both of Zobrist’s hits were doubles and she also supplied one RBI and one run.
Contributing one hit and one RBI each were Hacke (double, two runs) Garbett (one run) and Sullens.
Junior right-hander Kirsten Plocher was able to get back in the win column after dropping her last two starts. Plocher (10-2) went the distance and gave up just two earned runs on six hits and three walks while fanning nine.