By RANDY HISNER
Heritage softball coach Amanda Minchski didn’t have to strategize much on offense Wednesday night in the Patriots’ 13-3 mercy-rule victory over Concordia in the semifinals of the Angola 3A Sectional.
A five-home run barrage made tactics unnecessary. “I love that,” Minchski said of the big-swing outburst. “I can put the play sheet in my pocket and just let them go.”
The Patriots (16-8), behind the stellar pitching of sophomore Danica Fuller, were nursing a 2-0 lead as they came to bat in the bottom of the fifth. With one out, center fielder Abriyah James started the home run derby, drilling a 1-0 pitch over the fence in dead center to make it 3-0. Catcher Grace Guenther followed with a single to left but was forced out at second on Claire Bickel’s fielder’s choice infield grounder. Then third baseman Avi Washington got into an 0-2 hole against Cadet starter Samantha Hoffman. Apparently, Washington didn’t cut down her swing much with two strikes; she clubbed the next pitch well over the center field fence for a two-run homer and a 5-0 Patriot lead.
The Pats weren’t done. Shortstop Libby Cain walked, and Cadet coach Jacob Pennekamp brought Maizy O’Hare in for Hoffman. First baseman Lydia Schultz reached on an error, bringing up second baseman Lucy Buuck, who promptly followed the James-Washington blueprint with a three-run homer to left. Heritage led 8-0.
A brief defensive lapse by the Patriots in the top of the sixth led to three Concordia runs. With one out, the Cadets’ Addison Kaiser reached on Schultz’s error. Ruth Kaiser then grounded to Washington at third, but Washington’s throw was wide of first base, and Addison Kaiser scampered home for the Cadets’ first run. Raelyn Koesters then laced a triple to center, scoring Ruth Kaiser. Allison Dubay grounded to short, driving in Koesters to make it 8-3.
Refusing to let the momentum shift, the Patriots scored five in the bottom of the sixth to invoke the 10-run rule. James led off with her second home run of the game and third of the season, a long drive over the fence in left center. Guenther singled and Washington reached on an error before Schultz blasted a 1-0 pitch out of the park in right center to give the Pats a 12-3 lead. Buuck walked, then scored the 13th run when the Concordia right fielder misplayed Fuller’s single.
Heritage had taken an early lead with single runs in the first and second innings. Fuller tripled to start the first inning and eventually scored on James’s ground out to Hoffman. In the second, Washington reached on an error, advanced to third on singles by Cain and Buuck, and came home on Fuller’s ground out to third.
Fuller went the distance for the Patriots, striking out eight, walking two, and giving up just two hits. She had a productive night at the plate also, collecting two triples, a single, and an RBI groundout.
Hoffman took the loss. She went 4.2 innings and gave up seven hits and two walks, while striking out four. Concordia, the SAC champs, ended the season 12-12.
The Cadets had edged the Patriots 9-8 back in April. “The girls always want revenge on losses,” Minchski said. “They definitely are competitors, and they don’t like to lose, so that was one they wanted to get back.”
The win puts Heritage in Thursday’s championship game against the 23-1 Leo Lions, the state’s top-ranked 3A team. The Lions defeated Woodlan 8-2 in Wednesday’s first game. Leo defeated Heritage 15-5 in the regular season.
“Leo’s a great team,” Minchski noted. “They’ve had a great program for years. We’re just looking to do what we’ve always done—go out there, compete, have fun. If we can keep the game close, we think we’ve got a chance. Anything can happen in a sectional final. If we didn’t believe, we wouldn’t be where we are right now.”
The championship game is slated for 6:00 P.M. Thursday.