Nathan Mollat/Daily Journal
Hillsdale Eryn McCoy is greeted at home plate by her teammates following a fourth-inning home run in Hillsdale’s 11-2 win Saturday.
The Hillsdale softball team, seeded No. 3 in the Central Coast Section Division II tournament, got off to a slow start against No. 6-seed Presentation in a quarterfinal game at Redwood City’s Hawes Park Saturday morning.
The Knights closed with a flourish, however, scoring eight runs over the final three innings to post an 11-2 victory over the Panthers and advance to the Division II semifinals Wednesday.
“I can’t be more proud of the kids,” Hillsdale coach Randy Metheany said. “As a team, our aggression (at the plate and on the basepaths) was superior. The best I’ve seen all year.”
The win was a complete team effort for Hillsdale (21-7), which saw all nine starters get at least one hit, seven of the nine starters scoring and seven of nine recording an RBI.
Hillsdale will now take on No. 2 Pioneer in the semifinals at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday at PAL Stadium in San Jose. It is the third time in four years the Knights have advanced to the final four. Pioneer punched its ticket to the semis with a 10-3 win over No. 10 Westmont.
The 10 a.m. start Saturday morning was definitely different for both Hillsdale and Presentation, but the Panthers appeared to get up on the right side of the bed and shocked the Knights when the Panthers’ leadoff hitter, Lorena Ukanwa, blasted the third pitch of the game well over the fence in left-center field for a quick 1-0 Presentation lead.
“It was definitely a wake-up call,” said Hillsdale pitcher Eryn McCoy. “She hit it well. (After that), you just have to get in your zone.”
Presentation hit the ball hard against McCoy in the first two innings, hitting for the cycle as a team. In addition to Ukanwa’s solo blast, Grace Hargadon added a first-inning double, Elizabeth Skotz had a second-inning single and Amanda Cabrera tripled in the second as well.
After that, however, McCoy held the Panthers to just two hits.
“Eryn seemed to be aiming the ball, not throwing (in the first couple innings),” Metheany said. “That might have been nerves. We were having trouble getting strikes.”
While Ukanwa’s shot may have knocked the Knights on their heels, it was ever so briefly as they came right back with three runs in the bottom of the first to take the lead for good.
Hillsdale benefitted from sloppy Panther play in the bottom of the first to ignite the Knights’ rally, committing two errors that led to all three runs being unearned. Meagan Wells led off the inning with a walk, but it appeared any would-be rally was going to be snuffed out when No. 2 hitter Riley Wells hit a one-hop shot right to the Presentation third baseman – who threw the ball into right-center field trying to get the out at second.
That throw allowed Meagan Wells to easily score the tying run and Riley Wells to make it around to third. Following a strikeout, Lauren Quirke singled home Riley Wells for a 2-1 Hillsdale lead. Quirke then stole second and went to third when the Panthers catcher’s pickoff throw to second sailed into center field. Quirke scored on Bailey Nestor’s two-out bloop single just behind first base.
The Knights had a chance to do more damage, but ended the inning with the bases loaded.
The Panthers closed their deficit to 3-2 on Cabrera’s RBI triple in the top of the second, but McCoy would shut them down the rest of the way.
Ukanwa, meanwhile, seemed to settle down and did not allow a hit over the next two innings.
But if the Panthers gave the Knights their first three runs, Hillsdale earned the next five. During a four-run fourth, the Knights strung together five hits. McCoy, who also had a tremendous day offensively by reaching base in all four of her plate appearances, extended the Knights’ lead to 4-2 with a solo home run that bounced off and over the top of the fence in left field.
“That felt really good,” said McCoy. “It took a while for us to warm up.”
McCoy doubled in the fifth and was hit by pitches in the first and sixth innings. She also scored twice.
“She was crushing the ball,” Metheany said of McCoy. “I think she’s now realizing she has to help herself.”
Following McCoy’s blast, Katie Miller reached on an infield hit when her shot up the middle hit Presentation pitcher Ukanwa square in the thigh. Following a strikeout, the Wells sisters had back-to-back singles to load the bases. Sharona Mataele followed with a two-run single to left and Talya Franco capped the uprising with a two-out RBI single to center.
Hillsdale added two more runs in the fifth. McCoy started that rally with a double to the right-center field gap and came home on a Kara Ronberg double to left. Ronberg took third on a Riley Wells single and ended up scoring on an error.
Hillsdale capped the scoring in the sixth inning, with Quirke scoring on a Miller fielder’s choice, and Franco eventually scoring on Presentation’s fourth error of the game.
Hillsdale scored 11 runs on 10 hits.
“I think [Ukanwa] was struggling to get [her pitches] in the zone. Then she had to bring it,” Metheany said. “We were hitting it hard. We were really putting the pressure on them.”