By Ronn Rowland
Phoenix Sports Writer
FORT GIBSON – The weather outside was frightful but not enough to scare the Hilldale Hornets in their regional opener on Thursday.
With a wind chill in the high 20s and light rain falling, the defending Class 4A state champions took advantage of three Stilwell errors to beat the Indians 6-1 at Carr O’Dell Tiger Field in a game that was called with one out in the top of the seventh inning as the rain came down harder.
“We played hard and did a good job of putting the ball in play hard early,” said Hilldale coach Darren Riddle. “We set the tone early but stranded five runners through two innings and that was kind of frustrating at first. But we kept having good swings and got some bunts down.”
The game was scoreless until the fourth inning when the Hornets (19-10) broke on top with three runs. With two runners on and one out, Miles Jackson singled through the right side of the infield to score Scott Rodden with the first run and Isaac Isham came home when the ball was misplayed in the outfield.
Jackson moved to second on the error and closed out the scoring in the frame, coming home on a single by Colby Mullens. Stilwell (26-8) cut into the deficit in the bottom of the fourth as Austin Catron came home on a sacrifice fly by John Vaughn to make the score 3-1.
The three runs would be all the support that Hilldale starting pitcher Derek Altman would need as he improved to 4-0 on the season. He gave up the one run in the fourth while scattering four hits and striking out seven.
“I had to make sure my fast ball was on,” Altman said. “So I focused on throwing my fastball for strikes and get my off-speed stuff over when I could. It was a little tougher pitching on a day like today and the balls were getting really wet late in the game.”
The Hornets gave Altman a little more breathing room with three unearned runs in the fifth inning scored by Cameron Orman, Rodden and Isham. Riddle knows while his team played well, the work is far from being done.
“Altman was outstanding today. He had a lot of strikeouts and nobody really hit him hard,” Riddle said. “Defensively we played really well. It’s tough to play on a day like this. But we got big hits and made some big plays defensively to hold them to the one run.”
Hilldale’s win sets up a rematch of last year’s Class 4A state championship game at 11 a.m. today with the No. 1 Berryhill Chiefs — who Hilldale beat 2-1 for the title last May. Berryhill defeated host Fort Gibson in the first game of the day Friday, 7-0. Stilwell faces Fort Gibson at 1 p.m. in an elimination game with the winner moving on to face the Hilldale-Berryhill loser at 3 p.m. in game five of the regional.
Game six pits the winner of the Hilldale-Berryhill game against the game five winner. Should the winner of game six be undefeated, it advances to next week’s state tournament. If both teams have one loss, the if-necessary game is set for 1 p.m. Saturday.
Berryhill 7, Fort Gibson 0
The Tigers kept their regional opening game against top-ranked Berryhill close but watched as the Chiefs pulled away late to end the Tigers’ seven-game winning streak.
“Berryhill’s been to the state finals the last two years. They’re experienced and we’re young and they handled the pressure a lot better,” said FGHS coach Randy Smith.
Berryhill (31-5) opened the scoring with an unearned run in the first and two more unearned runs in the third. Eric Hudson started on the mound for the Tigers (15-15) and was the victim of the problem that plagued Fort Gibson at the beginning of the season.
“It’s always pretty tough when it’s cold and windy,” Hudson, who fell to 8-2 on the year. “It boiled down to errors and we’ve been struggling with that all year long.”
While the road through the loser’s bracket is demanding, Smith told his club it’s not impossible to achieve its goal.
“We did this last year,” Smith said. “We lost the first game in the regional and got to the finals. It’s still anybody’s ball game. I think having the games called helps us — well it’s going to help everybody. You don’t want to see the quality of pitching that’s coming up getting hurt.”