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The No. 3-ranked Spartans fall to the No. 7-ranked Dragons in the state semifinals.

PMG PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Hillsboro's Rainy Dold makes a throw to first during the Spartans' game against Dallas Tuesday, May 28, at Hillsboro High School.The end can often signify a great beginning.

The Hillsboro softball team lost to Dallas 7-4 in the OSAA 5A state semifinals Tuesday, May 28, at Hillsboro High School, and while disappointed, junior pitcher McKenzie Staub said it would only help the young Spartans prepare for what they can only hope will be an even better season next year.

"In the end, we didn't get where we wanted," Staub said. "But I know we'll learn from this and be ready to take the next step next year."

Dallas broke a 1-1 tie with two runs in the third, added another in the fourth, then got what would turn out to be three necessary insurance runs in the sixth en route to earning a bid in the 5A state championship game. Hillsboro had their chances, but left nine runners on base and committed four errors that contributed to a handful of the Dragons' runs. But in the end, head coach Sara Harsin put little on her girls — who've been mostly dependable throughout the year — and chalked the bulk of it up to happenstance.

PMG PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Hillsboro's Kiara McCrea lays down a bunt during the Spartans' game against Dallas Tuesday, May 28, at Hillsboro High School.
"Errors are going to happen," Harsin said. "Our kids have made those exact same plays hundreds of times, however, you can guarantee they have not had to make that play or hit the ball for a chance to go to the state championship, and that one is on us as coaches."

She added.

"The kids have the tools and the ability to make those plays, we just need to put them in more high pressure situations so they can trust their abilities regardless of the score and situation."

The Dragons were led by senior Emma Classen who singled in her first at-bat, and finished 4-for-4 with two RBIs and two runs scored.

Dallas drew first blood in the second when Madeline Doig scored on a Jenessa Parnell sacrifice fly to center. Hillsboro however answered in their half of the second when Rainy Dold singled and later scored on an error off the bat of junior Natalie Kinney to tie it 1-1.

The Dragons wasted little time responding, hitting three doubles in the third inning, the last of which put Dallas ahead 3-1. It'd stay that way until the fourth when the Dragons scored again to make it 4-1, but Hillsboro fought back in the bottom of the inning when Kinney singled home Natalee Dold, then appeared ready to plate more. But with one out and the bases loaded, Dallas pitcher Kaelynn Simmons got Kiara McCrea to ground into a fielder's choice, ending with Sydney Lierman being thrown out at the plate, then Kiara's sister Kylee popped out, ending the threat and leaving the Sparts trailing 4-2.

PMG PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Hillsboro's McKenzie Staub hurls a pitch during the Spartans' game against Dallas Tuesday, May 28, at Hillsboro High School.
After a scoreless fifth inning, Dallas broke the game open in the sixth, plating three runs, all as a result of three costly Hilhi errors. The Dragons led-off with a Doig double, then following a strikeout, put runners on second and third following a sacrifice bunt before a single and another Spartans error put the visitors ahead 7-2.

In Hillsboro's final at-bat, the Sparts looked poised to make some noise, getting a double and back-to-back singles to get two quick runs to start the inning. But after a Rainy Dold line out, the momentum seemed to be lost and the game and Hillsboro season ended on a pop-out.

"Sure, it's disappointing," Harsin said. "Dallas was putting the ball in play and we weren't making the plays we usually do, but you win together and you lose together. Ultimately, it came down to us not making the plays in a high pressure situation."

Staub, who's been virtually unhittable for the bulk of the year, finishing with a 21-1 record and 0.99 ERA, was "okay" with her performance, but also said she could've been better despite her and her teammates fighting 'til the bitter end.

"I thought I pitched okay, but it wasn't my best game," Staub said. "But I think we battled all game long. Some things didn't go our way, but we stayed together and fought until the last inning."

In the wake of it all, the Spartans had much to be proud of: a 27-2 overall record, undefeated league campaign, and a trip to the state semifinals in light of having just one senior on the roster.

So where do they go from here and how do they take that last remaining step next year that leads to a state championship?

"We need to get them (the team) to believe in themselves and each other, as much as we as coaches believe in them."

Staub threw all seven innings for Hillsboro, allowing three earned runs on nine hits while striking out four. The junior also led the Spartans at the plate, going 2-for-4, while five more Sparts — Dold, Kiara McCrea, Kylee McCrea, and Chelsey Kinney — tallied a hit apiece.

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