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The Spartans' Chelsey Kinney scores on a eighth inning throwing error to send Hillsboro to state semifinals.

PMG PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Hillsboro's McKenzie Staub throws a pitch during the Spartans' game against Lebanon in the playoffs' first round Wednesday, May 22, at Hillsboro High School.Still going.

The No. 3-ranked Hillsboro softball team needed a little extra time to do it, but ultimately they dispatched No. 6-ranked Crater 2-1 in the OSAA 5A state quarterfinals Friday, May 24, at Hillsboro High School.

The Spartans scored a run in the first, then leaned hard on standout pitcher McKenzie Staub until the Comets scratched across the tying run in the seventh, forcing extra innings, where Hilhi won when Chelsey Kinney scored on a throwing error following a Juliana Raabe sacrifice bunt in the eighth.

Both teams tallied four hits in the game, but it's the attitude with which the Sparts play — according to their coach — that's fueling this team's run.

"This is a group that is playing together and playing for each other," Hillsboro head coach Sara Harsin said. "A kid makes a mistake and there is always someone there to pick her up. They love to compete and want to win."

Hillsboro got things going quickly in the first when McCrea led-off with a single to left, moved to third on her sister Kylee's sacrifice bunt and subsequent error, then scored on Staub's sacrifice fly. But from there it was all about the pitching, as both Staub and Crater's Hannah Joseph combined to allow just one baserunner — a fourth inning walk to Hilhi's Rainy Dold — over the next five innings.

Harsin said — despite just four hits — she's not concerned about what appears to be an anemic offensive attack, for the Sparts have hit the ball hard, but unfortunately have done so directly at the opposing defense.

"It would have been nice to have a few more hits, but it worked out," she said. "I'm not worried. We're hitting the ball hard, but it's just happening to go right to people. We'll find the holes."

After six scoreless, Crater finally evened the game in their last at-bat thanks to three consecutive hits to start the inning. Presley Robison started with a double to left, Kaila Lee followed that with a single to right that scored Robison, then after Jordan Peterson reached on a bunt single down the first base line, the Comets had runners on first and second with no one out and an opportunity to take the game by the horns. Luckily for Hillsboro, Staub buckled down, getting a pop-up and two straight strikeouts to end the Crater threat, and after the Sparts went quietly in the seventh, it was off to extra innings with both teams' seasons on the line — which didn't concern Harsin or her girls.

"We went in to extra innings and our leaders stepped up," Harsin said. "Kenzie (Staub) comes in to the huddle and says 'I'd take us in extra innings any day,' and Rainy (Dold) yells 'let's go.'"

And they were off.

Freshman Chelsey Kinney was hit by a pitch to start the inning, then Raabe laid down a sacrifice bunt that forced an errant throw to first and ultimately led to Kinney touching them all en route to the game's winning run.

"That bunt put pressure on their defense and good things happened for us from there," Harsin said. "If Jules (Raabe) doesn't run that out hard, they make the play easy at first and who knows what happens."

Staub was again the star of the game, throwing all eight innings, giving up just one run on four hits while striking out 15. But while the junior pitcher is always impressive, Harsin said this win was a true team effort.

"Honestly, I could go through every kid on our team and say they made a game winning play," the coach said. "It was a team effort and it took everyone doing their jobs and believing in the work they have put in."

And with but two games between them and a potential state championship, what's their mindset as they approach their semifinal? The same as it's been all year.

"We need to take the next game one inning at a time and do what we have done all season…relax and have fun!"

Hillsboro is scheduled to play Dallas at 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday, May 28, at Hillsboro High School.

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