The playoff version of the battle of the softball Bulldogs decisively went to Highland after the Bulldogs from Madison County blanked their conference rivals 5-0 last Wednesday in the Class 3A Columbia Regional Semifinal.
Sophomore Kirsten Plocher twirled a gem, overpowering Waterloo’s lineup with a five-hit shutout — highlighted by 10 strikeouts and only two walks— to pave the way for the playoff victory.
“Kirsten pitched a great game today,” said Highland first-year coach Greg Exton. “Really, it was her best game of the year in my opinion. She had good velocity and did a good job mixing her pitches and keeping them off balanced. It started right there with her — she made it possible for us to win.”
Plocher said she did not even realize that she hit double digits in strikeouts until after the game was over. The right-handed ace was never more masterful than when she whiffed eight batters from the second through the fourth innings, including punching out the side in the second and fourth.
The win in the circle hiked Plocher’s record to 11-2 while it dipped her ERA to a season-best 2.42.
“I was just trying to work all my pitches and keep them guessing and on their toes,” Plocher said. “I was working a lot of inside-outside with my screwball and curveball but my rise ball was also coming off my fingers really well. I tried to give them different looks at all of my pitches. I have to give lots of credit to (assistant coach) Glen Nichols, who was the pitch caller this game by studying the stats to really help me behind the curtain.”
Offensive and defensive support
Providing more than enough offensive support for Plocher were junior third baseman Raily Kassay and junior catcher Jill Garbett, who combined for four of HHS’ six hits and teamed up to drive in four of the team’s five runs. Garbett also doubled once and Kassay also walked once.
In addition, senior center fielder Lauren Wright singled, walked, knocked in one and scored one.
“We were very good in the batter’s box and had lots of big RBIs to help keep me comfortable,” Plocher said. “I really couldn’t do anything without them behind me. My defense also had my back, making many plays and doing what we have been training all season, which is taking endless ground balls.”
After back-to-back one-out walks to fellow juniors Hannah Miener and Peyton Holzinger in the bottom of the second, Garbett, the team’s dependable backstop not usually known for her offense, came up big with an RBI single to left field to break up the scoreless scoreboard and put her team in front for good.
After the second out was made, back-to-back walks to senior Lauren Wright and Kassay forced home an insurance run for a 2-0 advantage.
But HHS would not stop there, tacking on two more tallies in the fourth. Holzinger smoked the first first pitch of the inning for a double to center. Just two pitches later, Garbett ripped an RBI double to left to extend the lead to 3-0.
Two batters later, Wright hit an RBI single to left to make it a four-run margin.
“Honestly, it was one of our best games we’d played all year, mentality wise,” Garbett said. “We started strong right off the bat, especially with talking it up in the dugout. I don’t think we ever have been that loud cheering on our teammates. If you were to look at us right then, you’d know we had that game. and it was definitely one of Plocher’s best games. Her speed was on top and her movement pitches were perfect. she adjusted great in the zone.”
Highland got the game’s last run with two outs in the sixth. Wright reached on an error and stole second before coming around to score on Kassay’s single to center.
“Everybody approached today’s game with their game face, and I couldn’t be more proud to call this my team,” Kassay said. “Also, everyone contributed in the lineup which was great!”