Pats pounce after early Wildcat score

Photos By Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Heritage Hills senior Felicia Leibering arrived home to a happy host of teammates after belting a solo home run in the fifth inning of Tuesday’s Class 3A softball sectional semifinals at the Jasper High School Softball Complex. Avenging an early-season loss to Jasper, the Patriots picked up a 3-1 win to reach tonight’s sectional championship. They’ll battle Pike Central at 6 p.m. CDT. For a gallery of photos, click here.


By JOHN PATISHNOCK
Herald Sports Writer

JASPER — For the first time in school history, Heritage Hills can win the softball sectional championship in consecutive years tonight. How the Patriots got there is much less important.

Kralj

Heritage Hills edged past Jasper 3-1 in the semifinals of the Class 3A sectional Tuesday night at the Jasper High School Softball Complex, advancing off the strength of two big hits and the uncanny battery chemistry of pitcher Kaitlin Kralj and catcher Hayli Scott.

Heritage Hills (22-6) will clash with Pike Central in the championship at 6 p.m. CDT today. The teams met in the regular season, with the Patriots claiming a 7-6 win in mid-April at Petersburg. Heritage Hills has captured a total of four sectional championships, taking down Pike Central in last year’s title tilt.

“It’s more satisfying to get to the championship of sectional, we really don’t care if it’s Jasper or Pike (Central) or Vincennes (Lincoln), they’re all good teams,” said Heritage Hills coach Joe Asbury, whose team also eliminated Jasper in last year’s sectional. “We don’t judge one team more than another in this tournament.”

Within minutes of the game starting, Jasper (16-13) seemed poised to take over. Nicolette Eckert, who finished with two hits, led off the first inning for the Wildcats with a single and scored on a Jessie Gudorf RBI bunt single. The Wildcats then had runners on second and third with no outs but Lindsay Baker was thrown out at the plate on the next at-bat and Heritage Hills’ Kaitlin Kralj (22-5) ended the inning by forcing a strikeout and a groundout.

“We could have just lost control there and gotten down right from the get-go and that would have been terrible,” Heritage Hills shortstop Abby Fischer said. “But we were fighting back the entire game.”

Jasper held its 1-0 lead until the fourth inning, when Fischer delivered a two-out, two-run single that landed right on the outfield grass, in front of Jasper center fielder Michala Flamion and beyond the reach of Eckert and Emily Beckman, who were at shortstop and second base, respectively.

“I just knew that it was my turn to do something,” Fischer said. “It wasn’t the best of hits, but it was in the perfect spot.”

Jasper’s Nicolette Eckert eluded the tag by Heritage Hills third baseman Kayala Hoppenjans in the first inning. Eckert scored to equip the Cats with an early lead, but Jasper went scoreless over the final six innings.


“It was just a good hit, placed in the proper place,” Jasper coach Matt Pryor added. “Sometimes, you just can’t get to those types of hits.”

After the game, Asbury was asked about the confidence level he has in his team. He opted to use the word “trust” instead, saying the fourth inning provided a great example. With runners on second and third and only one out, Jasper’s Keegan Katter (13-13) struck out Cadie DellaMorta, allowing the Wildcats an opportunity to escape still holding the lead. But then Fischer came through, scoring Kayala Hoppenjans and Kaylee Zoglman.

“We just feel like if one kid’s not going to get it done, then it’s the next kid’s turn and they can get it done,” Asbury said. “We’re not relying too much on one person, and that’s great trust.”
Felicia Leibering then blasted a solo home run in the fifth, ripping a homer in sectional for the second straight season.

Jasper collected five hits, all singles; the Wildcats also stranded seven runners, including five in the first three innings. Kralj finished with nine strikeouts and prevented a Wildcat from reaching second base over the final four innings.

“They weren’t able to tee off,” Asbury said. “When they did get hits, they were hitting her pitches. Hayli did just a fantastic job of keeping her pitching nice pitches and (Kralj) followed Hayli’s lead, and she really did a nice job.”

The Wildcats came into the game committed to moving runners over. After Eckert singled to center field to start the game, Baker and Gudorf followed with bunt singles; Baker’s attempt was flawless, and after nobody covered first base, Eckert zipped around to third base and Baker moved up to second after the Pats were indecisive with where to throw the ball. Even Beckman, the Cats’ cleanup hitter, attempted to bunt in the first.

“We were willing to sacrifice an out,” Pryor said. “We’ve been hitting the ball well, so if we could get her in scoring position, we were confident that we could score her.”

Pryor, who was referencing all the players when he said “her,” took extra time after the game to talk with the team. Players were emotional. So were coaches.

“It’s also very special because I’m going to remember them for being my first team, ever,” Pryor said. “I couldn’t ask for a better group of seniors.”

Jasper graduates six seniors: Baker, Beckman, Katter, Anicia Ashby, Samantha Gerber and Haley Gudorf. More than anything, Pryor said that he wanted them to set an example for the underclassmen, saying he wanted the freshmen and sophomores to grow into the type of players and people that comprised his first senior class.

“That’s what I wanted to see out of them,” Pryor said, “that they were leaders and that they’re going to pass on their legacy, and they did that.”

Contact John Patishnock at jpatishnock@dcherald.com.




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