By CJ PETERS
HEBRON — Of the 14 players on Hebron’s roster, 11 are either freshmen or sophomores, all of whom comprise its starting lineup outside of senior Meadow Fornuto.
Friday’s game to clinch a share of the Porter County Conference round-robin title provided the youthful Hawks squad a chance to grow up fast, with visiting South Central aiming for an undefeated and outright crown.
Having trailed the entire game and by as much as five, Hebron’s deficit was three going into its final at-bats. Its proverbial backs against the wall, five of the first six Hawks reached – via four hits and a walk – with pinch-runner Karlie Pavey eventually standing at second base representing the game-winner.
Faced with a 2-2 count, sophomore Maddy Heck sent an opposite-field single into right field and Pavey – who was running on the pitch – raced without hesitation into home, sliding across the dish without a play for an 8-7 Hebron win in walk-off fashion.
“We’re either third place or tied for first, so that felt great to be able to tie for first, the girls deserved it and they did a great job,” Hebron coach Craig Doelling said. “There’s a lifetime of experience in an at-bat, you know I mean? The girls came together very well. We had a few hiccups here and there, but they never quit.
“It’s easy when you’re winning to stay positive, you start getting down on yourself when you’re losing, and they just kept driving the entire ball game. Our pitchers (Brooke Cunningham and Addison Toczek) did a great tag-team job and our bats and baserunning were phenomenal. We had timely hits and everybody contributed.”
Sophomore Molly Friel, the team leader in batting average, hits and RBI, was 4-for-4 for Hebron (20-3, 6-1), which pounded out 14 hits. She had a two-run triple just inside the right field line to make the game 7-6 and scored the tying run on Fornuto’s single in the seventh.
“Yeah, that was crazy, there were a lot of emotions going on,” Friel said. “I tried to stay confident up there. I saw two on base, so I knew I just had to swing to get a base hit. It was an outside pitch, so I just took it over that way.
“It’s pretty exciting to win it like this at home. It was almost like when we won the PCC championship in middle school (against Boone Grove) and it reminded me a lot of that, I was proud.”
Doelling said Friel has been a model of consistency for the Hawks, who also picked up multiple-hit days from Heck (3-for-4), Heidi Pena (2-for-4), and Fornuto (2-for-4).
“We have a pretty big pack of girls hitting in the .400s, but she’s leading the way,” Doelling said. “She gets timely hits when we need them and that’s why she’s in the spot she is in in our batting order. Our order kind of bounces around with speed and bats, but she’s always done a very good job as well as a whole bunch of other girls.
“This was huge and it’s a lot of good momentum rolling into sectionals.”
South Central (17-6, 6-1) jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the second, collecting four hits and three extra base-hits in the inning, including freshman pitcher Lexi Johnson’s no-doubter solo home run to left-center. Kendall Rosenbaum had a two-run double and Olivia Marks scored her with a two-bagger.
Marks was 3-for-4 with two runs and two stolen bases. Johnson added an RBI single in the seventh and was 2-for-4. Aubrie Hiigli had a solo homer in the sixth.
“We started moving up in the box and were touching the ball well,” South Central coach Tony Wallace said. “Lexi’s home run broke things open a little bit and the girls relaxed a little bit more and we pushed some runs in. They fought back, all those runs came in the fifth and the seventh, hats off to them.”
Pushing its lead to five with a Delanie Gale triple that plated Marks, Hebron got to Johnson for four runs on four hits in the fifth – the big blow on a Pena bases-clearing triple just out of Rosenbaum’s reach in left.
“We drew Kendall in because we thought she’s slapping and she did, but got enough air on it with the wind blowing out, that took it over her head by a quarter of an inch and three runs score,” Wallace said. “I don’t recall very many errors, if any, it was just mostly placing hits. There’s a blooper there where we’re playing too deep and the one down there that bounces a foot inside the line, you can’t defend that stuff.
“They just put them where we weren’t, it’s softball, and I don’t fault my girls or anything like that. I thought Lexi did a great job staying with them. We knocked their pitcher out and we were hitting the ball, we just couldn’t put more runs in when we needed to, it was one of those things.”