It took 13 innings before the Hillsboro High School softball team could finally outlast Rock Creek and win a state championship.
It was the second extra inning game of the weekend; the Trojans needed eight innings to defeat Douglass on Friday. They came from behind in that game, scoring the tying run in the bottom of the seventh. They overcame a 3-1 deficit against Chaparral in the first game on Saturday.
Hillsboro center fielder Stephanie Sanders broke the 2-2 stalemate against Rock Creek by stealing third after an Allison Weber bunt advanced her to second. When she rounded the second base bag, she told herself to not advance too far — to not run into an out. When she saw all of the Rock Creek defenders had charged the plate to field the bunt, the softball instruction she had received throughout her youth kicked in. She saw third base open and she took it.
“Where are they? They must be hiding or something. I couldn’t believe third base was open,” Sanders said.
Sanders slid headfirst into third easily. In haste, the Rock Creek shortstop could not field the high throw from the second baseman, who covered first on the out. Sanders ran home easily and emphatically stomped the plate to end the game, 3-2.
“We’ve always said, if you do the little things, the big things will come,” Sanders added.
The Trojans had plenty of big performances, one of them came from the smallest player on the field — pitcher Allison Weber.
Hillsboro was up 2-1 heading into the bottom of the seventh. Weber walked the first batter of the inning. She secured the next two outs with a bunt and fly out to right field. However, Rock Creek’s five-hole hitter smashed a double into left field to score the runner from second and tie the game.
“When they scored that run, my stomach just dropped,” first baseman Sammy Koons said.
Weber had pitched every inning for Hillsboro in the tournament and she continued to be called to the circle for every extra inning. She pitched nearly two games back-to-back. Although she said she felt every bit of pressure in the moment, it was not evident on the field as she recorded tough out after tough out.
“She pitched like a senior in college,” Sanders said. “I wouldn’t have wanted anybody else out there.”
Rock Creek looked like they were destined to score a run when they led off the 10th inning with a double, but Weber shut the door with a ground out, fly out to second base, and strikeout.
Two innings later, Rock Creek led off the 12th with consecutive singles. A well-executed double steal advanced runners to second and third with no outs. Webber forced a fly out to left field. When the next batter bunted, Koons made a game saving play. She was rushing the plate to play the bunt when the batter popped the ball up weakly. Almost on top of the Rock Creek batter, Koons dived over the plate securing the ball in a cloud of dust.
“I wasn’t surprised that she caught that ball,” head coach Stephanie Sinclair said. “She’s just a gamer.”
The next Rock Creek batter easily grounded out to second to get Hillsboro out of the inning.
There were other heroes for Hillsboro in the final game against Rock Creek.
The two top defenders for the Trojans were Courtney Weber at second base and Erin Loewen at third.
With Hillsboro’s consistent game plan of pitching outside, Loewen had not had many balls hit hard at her all season, Sinclair said. Rock Creek purposely tried to pull the ball early in counts and Loewen had her work cut out for her. Loewen made a snow cone catch in extras to end a Rock Creek inning. She also made the easier plays on sharply hit ground balls.
Loewen had only a few at bats for the Trojans all year, usually she was the player for which Madison Klein substitutes at the plate. Loewen was forced to work strenuously on her defense to play for Hillsboro throughout the year. That work paid off on Saturday.
While Allison Weber pitched every inning for Hillsboro, fellow freshman Bradli Nowak caught every inning as well. Allison Weber said her catcher never tired in the sweltering mid-day sun on Saturday.
Nowak did not let her work behind plate deter her on offense. Nowak scored the first run for Hillsboro, all the way back in the fourth inning, with a double. She was driven in by Krista Reimer. Nowak went 3-for-4 against Chaparral, scoring the Trojans first run in that game. She also had the final RBI for Hillsboro.
For the Trojan seniors — Amy Bartel, Reimer, Koons, Sanders, and Courtney Weber — the victory was a culmination of three years of hard work.
“We all came through,” Sanders said. “Us seniors, we were hungry for this championship.”
With the dust still settling at Twin Oaks in Manhattan, the Trojans could hardly believe it was real. Sanders said it barely sunk in that her run had ended the game. Allison Weber, with a younger players’ perspective, was unsure exactly how to feel.
“It doesn’t even feel like we won,” Allison Weber said.
On second thought …
“I want to come back every year,” she added.