CHARLOTTESVILLE — As a senior in high school, nothing is more gratifying than walking with classmates one last time and receiving that hard-earned diploma at graduation.
But when Eastern Hancock seniors Darby Shaw and Jordan Pierson learned their post-high school celebration would fall on the same day as the semistate portion of the IHSAA softball tournament, the pair knew it would be one or the other.
Fortunately, they had this planned from the start.
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“We’ve had the goal of winning state since the first day of practice,” said Shaw, who earned her 17th win of the season against Union County on Tuesday in regional play. “Jordan and I knew that we would most likely end up missing graduation.
“I’ll have another chance to go to graduation in college, but I’ll never have another opportunity like this.”
After jumping out to an early lead over the fifth-ranked Patriots, the Class 2A No. 16 Royals held on for a 7-6 win to earn a matchup with No. 1 Henryville (28-2) on Saturday at the Forest Park Semistate.
The game will be played at Cedar Crest Intermediate School, which is about five miles north of Ferdinand on Highway 162 North towards Jasper.
“This game is the only thing I would want to miss graduation for,” Pierson said, who plans to attend Ball State for sports management next year.
Eastern Hancock athletics director Aaron Spaulding said the school will conduct a special ceremony during graduation practice for Shaw and Pierson at 11 a.m. Friday at the high school.
“That makes it easier to miss,” said Shaw, who will play softball at IPFW next year.
In search of their first semistate title in school history, according to head coach Sue Anderson, the Royals (19-3) are in for the their biggest challenge to date. If Eastern Hancock is able to knock off Class 2A’s top-ranked team, the team will face another tall test against either No. 2 Evansville Mater Dei (24-5) or No. 3 Indianapolis Scecina Memorial (20-6), which play in the first game at 11 a.m. Saturday.
The semistate championship will be played at 7 p.m. that evening.
“We are excited to be able to continue to play,” Anderson said. “We loved the crowd support (Tuesday) and hope the fans will make the drive. It is going to be a very competitive semistate.”
Henryville hasn’t lost a game since April 8, when it lost back-to-back games to Seymour and New Albany. It also features three players with 40 or more hits and 30 or more RBIs, with two pitchers notching double-digit wins.
Senior Emma Hendricks leads the team in average (.537) and has collected 51 hits and 44 RBIs. Sophomore Lexie McAfee has been solid, too, hitting .455 at the plate with 44 hits and 32 RBIs.
Six different Hornets also have hit a home run, with junior Peyton Ottersbach leading the team with five. She has 35 RBIs, as well, and leads the team on the mound with 123 strikeouts and 15 wins. She has not lost a game this season, while McAfee is 12-2 with 107 strikeouts.
The two have 11 combined shutouts and 1.23 ERA, which makes life easy for an offense averaging 10.2 runs per game.
But the Royals haven’t been bad either, producing 10 wins in a row dating back to the beginning of May, when it also lost consecutive games for the first and only time this season.
Shaw now has 164 strikeouts and is hitting .406 at the plate, while Pierson is hitting .377 from her leadoff spot and has a team-high 13 stolen bases.
Junior catcher Peyton West has been a defensive anchor behind the plate for Shaw, as well, and produced two RBIs in the team’s regional title win against Union County. Sophomore shortstop Micah Black and West lead Eastern Hancock with 34 hits apiece with Black producing the most doubles (11) and home runs (5).
And they’ve never been more connected than now.
“We are all together, one unit, and a family all working hard to reach our one goal,” Pierson said. “And that’s to go all the way.”
IHSAA Softball Tournament, June 4
*Games played at Cedar Crest Intermediate School near Ferdiana, Ind.
Game 1: No. 2 Evansville Mater Dei vs. No. 3 Indianapolis Scecina Memorial, 11 a.m.
Game 2: No. 16 Eastern Hancock vs. No. 1 Henryville, 1 p.m.
Game 3: Championship, 7 p.m.