CLAREMONT — The midseason softball game between unbeaten Hibriten and once-beaten Bunker Hill lived up to its billing on Tuesday night. The Panthers tied it up with a single run in the seventh inning and added the game-winner in the eighth to take a two-game lead in the Northwestern Foothills 2A Conference standings with the 4-3 victory.
“They just showed they’re never out, they’re never down. But I told them, there’s a huge target. You’ve got to be ready to play all night every night,” Hibriten coach Jim Blanton said, and pointed across the diamond at the Bears. “That’s a quality team over there, they put the ball in play and they put pressure on you. I was proud of the way they (Hibriten) battled back. It just shows there’s a lot of character in the dugout.”
Hibriten came out swinging against Bunker Hill and pitcher Makayla Herman. The Panthers scored twice in the opening frame on two hits with both runs batted in going to Anna Reeves.
While the Bears initially struggled against Jillian Jones’ off-speed offerings that consistently teased the outside corner of the plate, they figured it out in the third. Mykyiah LaFone launched a towering drive deep over the left-field fence for the first Bunker Hill hit of the night and the first Bears’ run.
“I’ll be honest with you, this is her (LaFone’s) first year playing. That’s why the girls were so excited,” Bunker Hill coach Sadie Norris explained. “She’s a very coachable kid and she’s improved tremendously along the way.”
Two batters later, Addison Wray hit a screaming line drive to right field just beyond the reach of a diving Kelli Sanders. The Panthers’ relay to the plate was no match for Wray’s mercurial trip around the bases for an inside-the-park home run and a tie score after three innings, 2-2.
Two innings later in the fifth, Wray’s speed would again be a nightmare for the Panthers. With two outs, Wray bunted her way to first base and took second when the hurried throw to first got away. Then Wray swiped third and scored on the same play when her speed forced another errant throw to put the Bears ahead 3-2.
After the first inning, Herman kept the Panthers in check with some help from her defense. Hibriten did threaten in the sixth inning on back-to-back infield hits. But a great play on a bunt by third baseman Caley Powell and Wray, who beat the Hibriten runner to the bag, kept the runners from moving up. Herman got out of the trouble on a ground ball to second baseman Camryn Bryant.
But the Panthers did more than threaten in the seventh. Leadoff batter Zoey Walker hung a clothesline through the right-field power alley for a double. She moved to third on an infield out and scored on Reeves’ single to left.
Bunker Hill looked as though it might win it in the bottom of the seventh when the first two batters reached safely. But Jones escaped on two pop flies, one in foul ground, and an infield out.
Zoe Waters ripped a one-out triple for Hibriten in the eighth inning and later scored on an uncharacteristic infield error by the Bunker Hill defense for what proved to be the game-winner.
“I told them we could have played the coulda-woulda-shoulda game all night, a lot of things that we could have done differently to keep them out of scoring position that just didn’t go our way,” Norris said. “But we know what we need to work on and I think we’re ready to make those adjustments.”
In the bottom of the eighth, Jones went through the heart of the Bunker Hill lineup in order on an infield popup, a fly ball and a game-ending strikeout.
Only two of the Bunker Hill runs were earned against Jones, who struck out seven and walked one. She threw 114 pitches with only 32 of those called balls.
“She (Jones) is going to be around the plate. She pitches to contact,” Blanton said. “She’s going to keep you in every single game. I’m proud of her.”
The Panthers had eight hits with two each going to Walker, Reeves and Waters. Reeves finished the night with three RBIs.
Herman pitched well even though she was tagged with the loss. She struck out one and walked four, but stranded 11 Panthers runners — six in scoring position.
Wray had two of the Bears’ five hits including the home run.
“We knew there was a lot riding on this game, and we knew this was a very good team,” Norris said. “I’m proud of how my girls came around.”
The Panthers are now 7-0 and will play at Patton tonight. The Bears are two games back at 5-2 entering tonight’s road contest at West Caldwell.
Hibriten: 200 000 11 – 4 8 3 Bunker Hill: 002 010 00 – 3 5 2
WP: Jillian Jones (5-0)
LP: Makayla Herman (5-2)