The Highland softball team will be returning to regionals for the first time since 2010 thanks to a dramatic conclusion to their Division II district championship contest at Pickerington Central against Jonathan Alder.
Trailing 3-0 going into the sixth inning against the top-seeded Pioneers, the eighth-seeded Scots were able to tie the game with three runs in that inning, go in front with two scores in the seventh and then survive a bases loaded scare in the bottom of the inning to finish off their 5-3 win.
“If that’s not the story of this team, I don’t know what is,” said head coach Abby Steele of her team’s come-from-behind win. “When they get it in their mind they’re ready to win, they win. I’m just so proud of them. Jonathan Alder is one of the greatest programs around and so to beat a team like that, there’s nothing more fun. We’re looking forward and enjoying this today. We’re probably going to enjoy it a little bit tomorrow and get ready for regionals Monday.
For much of the afternoon, it didn’t look like the Lady Scots would have a Wednesday trip to Wright State University to look forward to. The Pioneers got off to a fast start thanks to a two-run homer by Natalie Neumeier in the first inning and added a score in the fourth inning on a two-out single by Abby Bush.
Meanwhile, the Scots struggled to get anything going against Jonathan Alder pitcher Alyssa Miller. Dalaynie Hernandez cracked a second-inning double, but was stranded at third base. Highland would also have one baserunner in both the third and fourth innings, but would not be able to move them past second base.
The sixth inning would be a different story, though. Guinevere Jackson led off the inning with a single, stole second base and came home on a Kate Clements double. With one out, Aubree Bellamy drew a walk. Hernandez then hit a grounder that was misplayed by the Pioneers to bring both Clements and Bellamy home and tie the score.
Highland then added two runs in the seventh inning to move in front. With Brianna Tuggle and Jackson on base with two outs, Scot pitcher Stevie Asher came through with a two-run single to clear the bases and give Highland their first lead of the game.
“Before I was at bat, I was envisioning that exact pitch going in that exact place and I was just waiting for the right pitch and finally got it,” said Asher.
Steele was happy for her senior star.
“For Stevie to come in and get that hit, you’re just so happy for her,” she said. “That’s what you want to see at this level, that’s what you love to see. She just pitched a heck of a game, striking out and holding runners. The defense had her back like no other. They had bases loaded at one point and we held them to only one run there and that’s huge. Just her leadership as a senior and coming through and getting that final hit to win the ballgame, it’s great — I’m so proud.”
The Scots still had to get through the bottom of the seventh. Asher was able to get the first two Pioneers out, but then walked three straight batters to load the bases. However, she was able to induce a groundout to dispel that threat and send the Scots to regionals. Despite pitching a complete game for the win, Asher noted it was her key hit that she’ll remember most.
“Probably that hit,” she said. “I love that hit. It was solid off the bat. It was a fun hit. That brought the momentum, I think.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS