Indian softball wins a couple close ones
By AUSTIN COLBERT
It's one thing to ask Hannah Hearld to pitch multiple complete games. It's another to ask her to be nearly perfect for 14 straight innings.
But the junior ace pitcher on the Hays High School softball team doesn't mind. In fact, she seems to revel in the spotlight and only gets better when the pressure is on.
"I love being in command on the mound. I like it, and I like the feeling of it. I like being the leader," Hearld said. "But today my defense really had my back and my spins were working really well."
Despite only two runs and six combined hits, the Indians pulled out a pair of 1-0 wins over Pratt on Thursday at the Bickle/Schmidt Sports Complex behind two dominant, complete-game performances from Hearld.
The game was a makeup from the originally scheduled contest April 3, which was pushed back due to weather.
"Coming into today, a split probably would have been good," Hays High coach Abby Maska said. "But we knew if we were going to have a team that can go to the next level and go deep in the postseason we would have to be the kind of team that can sweep a good Pratt team and we were able to do that today."
In Game 1 on Thursday, Hearld gave up three hits, one walk and struck out 11 batters. Game 2 saw little drop off, as she would give up only six hits, two walks and recorded nine more strikeouts.
On the other side was Pratt senior Britnee Hill, who pitched an equally superior two games despite the losses. Hill held Hays High to three hits while striking out nine batters in Game 1, giving up only one run on an RBI by senior Julie Balzer in the bottom of the third inning.
Hill was nearly perfect in Game 2 as well, again giving up only three hits and no earned runs while striking out 10 Hays High batters. The only run came in the bottom of the second inning, a two-out hit by sophomore Nicole Dinkel to score sophomore Madison Prough.
As good as the pitchers were, it was a long night for the hitters, especially the Hays High bats that have been so dominant this season.
"Some of the girls seemed to be frustrated and let some of their early at-bats kind of stay with them mentally as they went into later at-bats," Maska said. "The thing is with these good pitchers you have to just look for the pitch you can hit and be ready for it. I just think we were swinging from the heels all the time. We weren't loading and going quick to the ball."
Hearld and the dynamite defense behind her made up for the anemic offense. The performance came just two days after the team's doubleheader sweep of Colby (11-0, 7-3), games in which the Indian defense was anything but stellar.
Instead of playing timid as it did on Tuesday, the Hays High defense was aggressive and shut down any scoring chances Pratt had on Thursday. And with Pratt doing nearly the same on the other side, it became a contest of which defense was going to crack under the pressure first.
"It's good to see the defense pulling together behind Hannah. Hannah was great, but she needed help at times and Pratt was aggressive at the plate," Maska said. "When you have a doubleheader featuring two of the best pitchers in the state, it's going to be the team that makes the fewest mistakes and today that was us, so we are happy with these wins."
Hearld has now pitched five consecutive complete games going back to Game 2 of the April 17 doubleheader at Salina South (a 9-4 loss and 13-4 win). She has pitched 55 of the team's 61 innings this year, giving up 36 hits, 10 earned runs, 12 walks and recording 92 strikeouts.
And Thursday against Pratt was probably Hearld's best two performances of the season outside of her season-opening no hitter against Goodland.
"Today was really fun. I enjoyed myself; I enjoyed being with the team. And I do like closer games instead of blowouts," Hearld said. "Definitely my defense stepped up their game today and in those close games, defense is going to win the games. And it sure did today."
Hays High, now 9-1, will head to Great Bend on Tuesday for a 4 p.m. doubleheader.