BY PEDRO VELAZCO KOKOMO TRIBUNE
---- — GREENTOWN — The Northwestern-Eastern softball game ended on a bang-bang play at the plate.
It just took a while for that second bang to echo back.
Class 2A No. 5-ranked Eastern scored a 3-2 win with a one-out run in the bottom of the seventh.
Quinlyn Hochstedler started the rally with a single, moved to second on Alyssa Haalck’s sacrifice bunt, and took third on a wild pitch. Ashlyn Hochstedler connected with an infield grounder and the throw home was in time to get Quinlyn Hochstedler.
The Comet runner was called out by the home plate umpire, but after Eastern protested, the umpiring crew ruled the runner safe and that run decided the game. The field umpire was able to see that the ball got away from Northwestern’s catcher on the play at home.
“I saw her drop it,” Northwestern coach Jordan Dyer said. “The ball was on the ground. [The home umpire] couldn’t see it. It was the right call. The throw was there, it was just a bang-bang play.”
Thus ended a thriller between squads that both entered the game 3-0 in the Mid-Indiana Conference. Eastern (14-3 overall) is now tied with Western at 4-0 in the league. Northwestern fell to 15-4, 3-1 in the MIC.
“It was extremely difficult,” Eastern coach Jerry Haines said of the win. “In fact, when they tied it up, I knew it was going to be tough.”
Eastern, which advanced a runner to second or third base every inning, scored twice in the bottom of the fifth to break a scoreless tie. Northwestern answered immediately with two runs in the top of the sixth.
“It was tough because [Northwestern pitcher Crystal] Metz was doing a tremendous job of not giving up the hit that would score the runs, defense was playing well,” Haines said. “A couple times [NW’s defense] went after probably the wrong runners and gave us a chance but we still didn’t take advantage of it.”
Eastern finally broke through in the fifth inning after a leadoff double by pitcher Abby Oyler. Her courtesy runner, Emily Harvath, scored two batters later on a fielder’s choice by Quinlyn Hochstedler where all runners were safe. Quinlyn Hochstedler scored later on a wild pitch.
Northwestern answered the next half inning. Bailey Thatcher hit a one-out double to start things. Kelsey Richards followed with a single and Metz reached on an error to load the bases. After a fielder’s choice out at home, Kaitlyn Kennedy delivered a two-out, two-run single to knot the game.
Those runs shook up a duel between Eastern’s Abby Oyler and NW’s Metz. Metz gave up eight hits and two walks with four strikeouts while dealing with runners on base every inning.
“We had a couple shots there where we should have had an out and we didn’t,” Dyer said. “Crystal did a heck of a job battling out of some of that.”
The Eastern ace allowed six hits and one walk with seven strikeouts.
“I thought Abby pitched real well for being under pressure the whole game,” Haines said.
Dyer praised Kennedy, the catcher, for a good night at bat. He wants more of the Purple Tigers taking cuts and fewer watching pitches fly by.
“I thought we hit the ball when we swing the dang bat, but we watched too many pitches,” he said. “Especially with Abby, she gets one on you and you’re already behind the gun. She just kept hammering and once she gets ahead, can’t let good pitches go down the tube and not move our bat.”
Rounding out NW’s offense, Kindra Gingerich tripled, and Richards doubled to go with her single.
On Eastern’s side, Brooke Stout doubled and singled, Abby Oyler had two singles in addition to her double, and Quinlyn Hochstedler singled twice.