Hilhi loses heartbreaker to Lebanon in playoffs opening round
There's a saying, "everything ends badly, otherwise it wouldn't end." You can debate that from a number of angles, but in regards to the Hillsboro Spartans softball team — it's apropos.
The No. 2-ranked Spartans opened, and unfortunately closed the 2018 postseason with a 6-5 state playoff opening round loss to Lebanon Wednesday, May 23, at Hillsboro High School. The Northwest Oregon Conference champions looked uninspired for the first half of the game, and by the time they pulled themselves together, an untimely miscue coupled with a couple near misses did Hilhi in and prematurely ended a season fraught with expectation. But despite a bevy of self-inflicted Spartan wounds, head coach Stacey Hutchinson was left with little to do but tip her cap to the Warriors who made the most of what the home Sparts gave them.
"I think they came out fired up and ready to play, and we looked a little flatfooted and not as energetic as we'd like to see," said Hutchinson. "We had some miscues defensively that allowed them some runs early, and we were off-balance with the pitcher all game and simply had trouble adjusting."
Warriors coach Mardy Benedict spoke glowingly of his team's performance, crediting the effort despite the mismatch against a talented Hillsboro club.
"I'm so proud of our girls, because we came in here as the 15-seed and for us we were just trying to compete," said Benedict. "That was a great pitcher we were going up against and they've got a great defense, so our whole game plan was to be solid at the plate and put it in play. They made some mistakes and we were able to capitalize on them."
Lebanon took an early lead when they got four runs in the second inning, but Hillsboro scratched and clawed their way back to tie it in the fifth before the game's only error broke the tie and ultimately cost them the game.
With the score tied 5-5 and the Warriors boasting runners on first and third with one out, Lebanon's Tatum Seibert attempted to steal second base in an effort to elicit a throw. The Spartans, not falling for the trick play, put a play on to try and provoke the Warriors' Hailey Johnson to head for home in an effort to get her at the plate. Problem being, Hilhi catcher Kiara McCrea and inexperienced second baseman Kylee McCrea weren't on the same page and the ball went to the bag at second, allowing Johnson to score and ultimately provide the game's winning run.
"It was supposed to be a play, but unfortunately our starting second baseman went home sick today and Kylie had to step in and she hasn't taken a lot of infield recently because she's been in the outfield," said Hutchinson. "When the lineup changes it makes a big impact, but it is what it is and credit to Lebanon."
Yet, that wasn't the only key play.
After a scoreless first inning, Lebanon loaded the bases in the second with one out. Seibert then hit a flare midway down the third base line that appeared to be at least a foot outside the baseline, but there was no call from the umpire standing behind third base and as players on both sides hesitated, Benedict urged his player at third to run home, plating the game's first run and leading to three more as Lebanon managed a two-out two-RBI single coupled with a final run off a Hilhi wild pitch to give the Warriors a 4-0 lead.
Hutchinson argued the call to no avail, and would later communicate the lack of clarity as the primary issue considering the situation.
"I asked him why there wasn't a call and he said he thought the other guy was going to call it," Hutchinson said. "That was a big turning point in the game, changed the inning and gave them momentum. Ultimately there needs to be a call, and there wasn't."
Hilhi got their first runs in the bottom half of the second when Kiara McCrea single-in two runs to cut the lead to 4-2. Lebanon made it 5-2 in the third then watched the Spartans score one in the fourth and two in the fifth to tie the game 5-5 and appear ready to take control of a game slipping from the hands of the underdog Warriors. But Lebanon scratched across the run in the sixth, then hung-on tightly in the final inning as MacKenzie Staub singled and advanced to second on a wild pitch, then watched as Payton Goodrich and Rainy Dold both flew out to deep centerfield to end the game, sending the underdogs to the quarterfinals while the second-ranked Spartans were sent home prematurely.
Benedict couldn't have been more proud of his girls and fondly referenced a conversation early in the year that he thinks may have influenced their performance to this point.
"We started 0-6 and I remember telling the team that now were not getting it done, but the work we put in now will pay off later," Benedict said with a smile. "So we went to work and we made the most of our opportunity tonight, and here we are."
Hutchinson however was forced to say goodbye to her girls, three of which left an indelible mark on her and the Spartan program.
"This is a special group, and these three girls have made a major impact on the program," said Hutchinson. "Zoe (Richman) has been a four year starter in centerfield and has headed up the outfield, Payton's composure, leadership and ability to put the team on her shoulders when she needs to has been unrivaled, and Emma (Schaber) has just been a great teammate."
And how would the coach put a bow on the loss and the end to such a great season and era of Hilhi softball.
"It's just a tough group to say goodbye to."