By Mark Saluke
In a softball game that was every bit the pitchers’ duel many were expecting, Tipton senior stud Shelby Hursh and Eastern junior ace Abby Oyler went head-to-head for nine innings in Friday’s Class 2A Eastern Sectional final.
When the smallest of doors cracked open late in extra innings, it was the Comets who were able to sneak through.
With two outs in the top of the ninth, Quinlyn Hochstedler looped a single over stretching shortstop Hannah Mahaney to score Maddie Vint from second for a 1-0 lead and the Comets held on for a 1-0 victory for their 18th sectional title, but first since 2006.
Oyler fired a no-hitter to end the Blue Devils’ three-year sectional reign.
“I never imagined I’d do that,” said Oyler. “It feels good to finally do this, it’s always been a tough battle with Tipton. I just wanted to keep it up and not be done playing.”
Oyler, who retired the first 10 batters she faced, struck out nine in the game while walking just three.
“You can’t win with no hits and only three walks,” Tipton coach Jennifer Richey said. “We didn’t get it out of the infield. I knew it would come down to a pitching duel. I think Oyler threw a little harder [Friday night] than I’ve seen her throw.”
Oyler improved to 17-4 as the No. 4-ranked Comets (20-4) advanced to Tuesday’s one-game regional against Wapahani on the Raiders’ field.
Hursh finished with a 17-4 record for Devils, which finished with a 17-9 overall record.
Hursh is an Ohio State recruit.
“The last time these girls beat Shelby Hursh, she was in junior high,” Eastern coach Jerry Haines said. “They got her back then and haven’t got her again until now.”
Eastern’s bats looked primed to rattle Hursh early on Friday as Ally Oyler sent a single sailing up the middle to start the game and Brooke Stout followed with an infield single to put two on with no outs. Hursh settled in though, retiring the side in the inning and striking out six straight before Ally Oyler connected with another single in the third.
Hursh surrendered six hits and two walks while striking out 10, but Eastern couldn’t capitalize with its baserunners, stranding five in the first seven innings.
“We were getting runners on base, but we couldn’t get them in,” Haines said.
Through eight innings, Eastern had four hits, all of them in the top two spots as Ally Oyler had three hits along with one from Stout.
It wasn’t until the ninth inning rally that the middle of the order came to life.
After two quick outs, Vint drew a walk and Lizzy Mavrick followed with a single to short center to put Vint on second. That’s when Hochstedler’s 2-2 single plated the game’s only run.
“This time, we got the run,” Haines said in reference to the teams’ last meeting, a 1-0 victory for Tipton in 11 innings on April 22.
“Everybody else outside of our first two hitters were struggling,” Haines said. “Quinlyn had hit the ball hard a couple of times, but when she got that bloop, that’s the kind you want when you’re trying to score from second.”
Following the ninth-inning rally, Oyler retired the first two Tipton batters in the bottom of the ninth before a fielding error put the tying run on first in Mahaney. Oyler struck out the next batter looking to begin the celebration.