HUNTINGBURG — To call it an upset would be respectful.
Eastern Hancock earned its stripes. And though the day ended in sadness, each Royals player and coach walked away Saturday with their heads held high for good reason.
They were the best team in school history.
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Making it further than any team to wear a Royals softball jersey, No. 16 Eastern Hancock defeated Henryville, the state’s top-ranked Class 2A team before falling 3-2 to No. 2 Evansville Mater Dei in the Forest Park Semistate title game in an eight-inning heartbreaker.
For one day, knocking off the No. 1 team in the state 6-2 was the easy part. Mater Dei presented the real challenge.
With junior pitcher Emily Goodin headed to Indiana University, the Wildcats (26-5) featured an arm Eastern Hancock had trouble catching up to — until the end.
Rallying from a 2-0 deficit in the bottom of the seventh inning, the Royals came one base hit away from a state finals berth. And they were 60 feet away from another inning.
In the seventh, freshman Faithe Webster brought home two of the biggest runs of her young career. Webster grounded a ball to Goodin and sped out of the box. A close call turned into a heart-stopping moment as Webster and the Wildcats first baseman collided awkwardly, bringing the Royals freshman to the ground.
Meanwhile, in the panic of the moment, Mater Dei began to throw the ball around and allowed junior Peyton West and senior Darby Shaw to score, tying the game at 2-all. West, who hit a home run in the first game, reached base on a single and was followed by a Shaw double. But Goodin forced a final out, ending the Royals’ first chance at the upset win.
In the eighth inning, Goodin delivered with a home run, which proved to be the game-winning score.
In the bottom of the eighth, after Royals senior Jordan Pierson collected her second hit of the game and Brooke Walden doubled, Eastern Hancock again had runners on second and third.
But like the seventh inning, the much-needed hit never came.
“That was the only thing we were lacking,” Eastern Hancock coach Sue Anderson said. “It came down to just that one hit.”
The Royals, which made the long drive the night before the semistate contests, started strong with a statement in the opening game.
Pierson finished with three singles, all to center field, against Henryville while junior Kaysi Gilbert added a home run. West finished with two RBIs as the Royals used big fourth and fifth innings to take a lead they wouldn’t surrender.
After the team’s loss in the second game, Anderson said the team gave it their all.
“It definitely was not the outcome we wanted, but I can’t say one negative thing about our team,” Anderson said. “We fought all season long through injury, trials, adversity — you name it. And we did it. To take a team like this to the eighth inning, it just shows a lot of character about our team.
“Everybody fights. We were picking each other up.”
Mater Dei and No. 8 Boone Grove (Valparaiso) will play for the IHSAA State Championship this Saturday at Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis.
West finished the season leading the team in average (.444) and hits (36). Micah Black was second in average (.427) and led Eastern Hancock in, RBIs (27), home runs (5) and doubles (11).
Six players finished with 29 or more hits and eight had at least 10 RBIs, showing the team’s balance, while Shaw finished the season 18-3 on the mound with a 1.38 ERA. She had seven strikeouts in the win over Henryville and finished with a 174 on the season.
Pierson led the team with 13 stolen bases.
But the season was more than numbers. Together, 15 as one, the Royals made school history.
“Teams become great by making their teammates better,” Anderson said. “Not by seeking and searching for individual success.
“It was one for the memory books for sure. It’s about leaving a legacy. And they did that. I couldn’t have asked for a better team.”
Eastern Hancock 6, Henryville 2
EHHS (20-3);010;320;0; – ;6;8;1
HVHS (28-3);000;200;0; – ;2;9;0
WP: Darby Shaw (18-2) LP: Peyton Ottersbach (15-1).
RBI: Gilbert 2, West, Richmond, Shaw (EH). Ottersbach 2 (HV). 2B: Hensley, Hollis (HV). HR: Gilbert, West (EH). Ottersbach (HV).
Notables: Gilbert HR, 2 RBIs; West HR, RBI; Pierson 3-4, 3 singles; Richmond RBI; Shaw RBI.
Evansville Mater Dei 3, Eastern Hancock 2
MDHS (26-5);000;100;1;1; – ;3;6;1
EHHS (20-4);000;000;2;0; -;2;7;1
WP: Emily Goodin (18-4) LP: Darby Shaw (18-3)
RBI: Webster (EH). Kissel, Goodin (MD). 2B: Gilbert, Shaw (EH). Goodin (MD). HR: Goodin (MD).
Notables: Pierson 2-4; West 1B, run; Shaw 2B, run; Walden 2B; Webster RBI; Gilbert 2B.