Thrown into stateHighland advances to state for first time since 2008
The unthinkable had happened.
It seemed like a moment out of a movie; Pella Christian had found a way to fight back in a game that seemed as if it was over in the fourth inning, and with one crack of the bat, nearly broke the hearts of the Highland softball team.
The No. 1 ranked Huskies had given up eight unanswered runs, and Pella Christian had the game-tying run on second with two outs in the bottom of the seventh.
A trip to the state tournament was on the line.
Highland’s Katie Springer delivered the pitch to Pella Christian’s Natalie Vos, and a shot straight up the middle got out of the infield for a base hit.
The runner at second, Taylor Hartson, was waved home on the hit, but center fielder Kelsey Hora was able to scoop up the ball and fire a rocket to home to catcher Courtnee Hahn forcing a play at the plate.
“It just happened so fast,” Hora said. “All I knew was that I wanted to make sure I didn’t let her score.”
The throw got to Hahn, and as Hartson slid, the catcher applied the tag.
The next second seemed to last an eternity as both sides waited for a ruling from the umpire, but a moment later it was euphoria for the Highland Huskies, who had just earned a berth into their first state tournament since 2008 with an 11-10 win.
“I saw that girl coming at me and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I have to get her out,’” Hahn said. “ I have full confidence in Peanut (Hora) and she did what she needed to do. It was amazing. Words can’t even describe it.”
The call may have been different had Springer gone with her initial instinct.
“I was so scared,” Springer said. “I was going to cut (the throw) at first but I’m so glad I didn’t. Courtnee did a great job catching it, and it feels great. (Going to state) is a dream come true.”
As the throw came home, Highland head coach Carrie Weiland had to trust in her team to make the throw they rehearse every day.
“We practice that play exactly,” Weiland said. “We make them throw home every practice, and we’ve been doing that over and over again. I’m not shocked the play happened and happened successfully, I just wish it wouldn’t have had to happen.”
With the win, Highland continues its run through the season, moving to 31-1, with its only loss coming to Solon, the No. 3 team in 4A.
It felt like business as usual for the Huskies in the early going of the game, as they plated four runs in the top of the first inning.
Pella Christian answered with two runs off an error in the bottom of the first, but a Jordan Rath homerun made it 5-2 after the top of the second.
From the second through fifth innings, Springer was perfect in the circle, retiring 13 consecutive batters as Highland extended its lead to 11-2 heading into the bottom of the sixth.
A leadoff error led to two runs coming across in the frame, and after Highland was shut down in order in the top of the seventh, Pella Christian needed seven runs to tie the game.
After a strikeout to start the bottom of the seventh, Pella Christian got back to back base hits, and a groundout which scored a run to make it 11-5.
With two outs, the rally was on as the Eagles went on to string together four straight singles, making it 11-9.
“I thought we totally had control,” Weiland said. “We kept saying, ‘they need to score eight to beat us,’ then it was five, then four. It kept going down, but the girls kept under control and stayed within their means. They really stayed mentally tough and Katie (bore) down and did some things she had to do and the defense came through again.”
A double by Hartson made it a one-run game, then Vos came up to bat, and the great throw by Hora ended the game.
“I’m excited,” Weiland said. “This team worked harder than any other team I’ve had. They deserve it and every one of them is a part of it, and they are proud to be here. They are proud of themselves and they should be.”
The victory is the second close call in a row for the Huskies, who trailed Wapello late in their previous playoff game, but had to rally to pick up the victory.
Weiland says games like this will prepare the team for the tough competition at state.
“They have helped a lot,” Weiland said. “I really believe the Wapello game was the regional final. That game was more intense with the level of play. The crowd here wouldn’t probably agree with me on that, but tonight we just had to make an out. With the Wapello game, we were in a battle, but I don’t want to talk down to Pella Christian because they put on a show here.”
Highland will open up the state tournament on Tuesday, July 22, against St. Ansgar (19-8) who earned their trip to state by beating Manson Northwest Webster 4-0 on Monday night.
“Our goal first was to make it to state,” Hora said. “Now our goal is to win it.”