Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
Better late than never, the saying goes, and on Wednesday the Helias softball team was certainly good late.
The Lady Crusaders knocked nine hits for seven runs in their final two trips to the plate to overcome a two-run deficit and take an 8-4 win against Jefferson City High School at Duensing Field.
The win was Helias’ seventh of the year and the first by any team against the Lady Jays this season.
“We hadn’t beat them in a couple years, so it’s big for us and our program and our girls’ confidence,” Helias coach Dan Campbell said. “Anytime you can beat a program like Jeff City, it’s a feather in your cap, but anytime we play, the game could go either way. It’s just who gets the key hits, who gets the breaks, and tonight was our night.”
The Lady Crusaders allowed three hits in the first four innings and fell behind 3-1.
“I was very concerned at that point,” Campbell said. “It just didn’t seem like we had any intensity, and we weren’t making plays on defense.”
Jefferson City began the scoring with its first at-bat, a Katy Tambke single to left. Tambke stole second and came home on an RBI double to center by Emily Williams. The Lady Jays expanded their lead in the third when Alyssa Schulte, given second life by a dropped fly ball in foul territory, knocked the next pitch for a single. The ball eluded a Helias outfielder, and Schulte scooted to third, from which she scored on a Williams fly out.
Helias got on the board in the bottom half of the inning with a Lindsey Steinbeck walk, a Riley Bond bunt, and an Abbi Pringer RBI single to center. Pringer got a hit and an RBI in each of her three at-bats after striking out in the first.
“I was feeling confident,” she said. “After the strikeout, I knew I had to hit.”
The Lady Jays regained their two-run edge in the fourth when Hannah Hirschvogel singled to left, moved to third on an Ashton Glass bunt and an error, and scored on a Megan Newton groundout. The Lady Crusaders went down quietly in their turn in the fourth, failing to get on base.
“I just told them, ‘Keep battling. You never know,’” Campbell said. “And we just kept putting the ball in play.”
It paid off in the fifth. Steinbeck reached on an error after a seven-pitch at-bat. Bond moved her over with her second successful sacrifice bunt of the evening. Pringer knocked her second RBI single to center to start a string of four straight hits. Lauren Morrow singled to left, and Grace Dittmer and Kaylie LeCuru hit RBI singles to give Helias a 4-3 lead.
The lead was far from safe, however. Lady Jays catcher Hirschvogel singled to right-center to begin the sixth, and a sacrifice bunt by Glass was misplayed, allowing her to reach safely. It was then that starting pitcher Steinbeck got her first two strikeouts of the game, and she couldn’t have picked a more opportune moment.
“I think Lindsey settled down, and our defense settled down, and things started to click for us a little bit,” Campbell said.
Tambke drew a four-pitch walk, but Steinbeck forced a groundout four pitches later to get out of the jam with the lead intact.
Her reward was a second consecutive eight-batter inning from the Lady Crusaders. Abby Masek began the inning with an infield single, and took second on a wild pitch. Steinbeck followed with a single, reaching base for the third straight time. Bond grounded out to the pitcher, Schulte, who forced Masek out at home, and Jefferson City centerfielder Tambke made a difficult catch on a ball hit over her head for the second out.
But the heart of the lineup strung together consecutive hits once again to expand Helias’ lead. Pringer singled to center to plate courtesy runner Sophia Carr for her third RBI of the night. Morrow and Dittmer then hit identical singles into a Bermuda Triangle of fielders on the fringe of the infield to score three more runs, giving Helias an 8-3 advantage.
“You let a team hang around, and then you’re going to start getting those little bloop hits over the infield and into the outfield,” Jefferson City coach Zac Miller said. “Nothing you can do about that. I mean, the ball’s off the end of the bat and nobody’s home.”
The Jays scored a run in the seventh on a Williams single, and a Glass RBI, but an unconventional 9-3-5 relay on Glass’ single ended the game on a tag at third base.
Overall, the Lady Jays stranded nine runners, six of which were in scoring position.
“We’ve got to be able to have productive at-bats,” Miller said. “We’ve got to be able to put the ball where we need to in order to move those runners, and when you don’t, lots of runners get left on.”
The Lady Jays are now 5-1 after their first loss under first-year coach Miller.
“It’s a good gut check for us,” Miller said. “We needed that.”
The Lady Crusaders improved to 7-1 with the win.
“Right now we’re playing pretty decent softball,” Campbell said. “Hopefully we can work on our mistakes and continue to get better.”