Sophomore Kirsten Plocher pitched what her coach says was her best game of the year and the Highland Bulldogs got big hits at both the top and bottom of their batting order.
The result was a 5-0 win over Waterloo and a trip to the Columbia Class 3A Softball Regional title game.
“Kirsten pitched a great game today,” said Highland 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.”
Waterloo got five hits off Plocher, who finished the day with a season-high 11 strikeouts and two walks.
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"I had a strike zone I would work with today. Sometimes the umpire will squeeze you, but that didn't happen,” Plocher said. “I got a couple of calls that were maybe on the fence.”
Third baseman Reily Kassay finished the game 2-for-3 with a walk and RBI hits in the second and sixth innings. The junior recently was moved up to the No. 2 spot in the batting order after hitting safely in 12 of the Bulldogs’ last 13 games.
Kassay has eight hits in her last 12 at-bats.
"Everybody contributed in the lineup so it's easy to get going. I started at the bottom of the order and was moved up just recently,” she said. “I've been hitting with some consistency.
The Bulldogs (23-8) will face top-seeded Columbia (24-5) for the regional championship Saturday at 11 a.m. Columbia won the teams’ only prior meeting, holding off a late charge from Highland to win 6-5.
Waterloo’s season ends with a record of 15-17. The team reached the sectional final last season with a school record 35 wins only to lose to Highland.
"When we were at 30-0 last year I looked back and I'm thinking we had every break in the book. This season it seems like when we needed a break or when there was one to be had, we couldn't get it,” said second-year coach Matt Mason.
Highland took the only lead it needed in the second inning when Hannah Miener walked and scored on a single by catcher Jillian Garbett. Garbett later scored on Kassay’s first hit of the day.
The Bulldogs added two more in the fourth. Peyton Holzinger led off the inning with a double and scored on a hit by Garbett. Garbett scored her second run of the day, this time on a hit from lead-off hitter Lauren Wright.
Kassay capped the scoring in the sixth with a single to drove home Wright, who reached on a two-out error.
Plocher cruised, striking out eight batters in the second through fourth innings.
Waterloo got hits from Emma Snodgrass, Taylor Augustine, Taylor Downen, and Miranda Brown, who had both a single and double.
Pitcher Mallory Meyer allowed four earned runs on six Highland hits. She struck out two and walked four, all in the second inning.