By Ronn Rowland
Phoenix Sports Writer
What a difference a day makes – just ask the Hilldale Lady Hornets fastpitch softball team.
On Thursday, the Lady Hornets (32-5) struggled with the Inola Lady Longhorns (23-15) for most of the game before pulling out a 3-1 victory. On Friday, Hilldale, the No. 1-ranked team in Class 4A, gained the upper hand with four runs in the bottom of the first inning on its way to an 11-1 run-rule win over Inola in the Class 4A regional championship game at Hilldale.
“We just had a lot better approach at the plate and swung the bat a lot better,” said Hilldale coach Darren Riddle. “We jumped on them with four in the first after (Inola) got that one like they did yesterday. We swung at better pitches, hit the ball hard and I’m very proud of our girls.”
The win over Inola, who advanced to the championship game with an 11-1 win over Vinita in the first game Friday, went on top in its first at bat when Carli Jones connected on a 3-2 offering from Hilldale’s Destiny Riddle and sent it over the fence in left centerfield to give the Lady Longhorns a 1-0 advantage.
“I don’t know. That’s happened twice in a row,” Destiny said about her first inning struggle. “The girl that hit the home run is a good hitter. She’s a good athlete as well.”
The Lady Hornets, who earned their second straight state tournament berth with the win, erased that deficit and it started when Hillary Calvert induced a walk from Inola’s Lacie Bullard (15-9) to lead off and Casady Mills reached on a throwing error by Bullard. Riddle, the hitting star from Thursday’s game, picked up where she left off with a single to center which went under Kalli Fuqua’s glove and rolled all the way to the fence, allowing both runners to score and sending Riddle to third to put Hilldale up 2-1.
McKensie Plant continued the scoring with single to right field, bringing home Riddle to make it a 3-1 game. The final run of the frame came home on a passed by which brought Sarah Hughey across the plate, ending the inning with a 4-1 lead for the Lady Hornets.
“She’s a good pitcher and has good velocity and that’s good for me,” Destiny said about Bullard. “Hat’s off to her – she’s good – but I like fast pitchers. I was able to pick up what she was throwing early.”
The score remained 4-1 until the fourth inning when Plant connected on a 2-1 rise ball from Bullard and launched it over the centerfield wall for her second home run of the season, a three-run blast that brought home Calvert and Mills in front of her, to give Hilldale a 7-1 lead. The Lady Hornets ended the game in the bottom of the fifth inning with another four runs when Mills tripled with one out to score Kenzie Mize and Calvert, Riddle singled to bring home Mills and Plant doubled which scored Riddle.
“I was just ready to hit the ball,” Plant said. “I think we were all seeing (Bullard) better today.”
After the first inning, Riddle (27-4) settled down in the circle allowing only two more hits and two walks while striking out seven and went 2-for-3 at the plate with a walk, two runs scored and two runs batted in. While Mills had the best hitting day at the plate, going 3-for-4 with three runs scored and two RBIs, the big run producer was Plant who was 2-for-5 with one run scored and five RBIs.
“Last year we were ranked in the top 10 or 12, I can’t remember what it was, and we were fortunate to host a regional,” Darren said. “Our kids this year, they’ve been playing with that No. 1 tag for a while and I don’t thing they really realize that’s what they are. They like it but they don’t really care. They just go out and play.”
The Lady Hornets will find out who they play on Monday when the brackets are released by the OSSAA. The tournament will be played at The Ball Fields at Firelake in Shawnee because of renovations at the ASA Hall of Fame complex.