CHARLOTTESVILLE — Hitless through three plate appearances, Eastern Hancock’s Kaysi Gilbert needed to change things up.
After using center fielder Micah Black’s bat and flying out three times against Class 2A No. 19 Triton Central on Thursday, Gilbert went a different route. She obviously picked a winner.
On a 2-0 pitch, Gilbert blasted a walk-off two-run home run in the bottom of the fifth inning, setting a new program record and propelling the 13th-ranked 2A Royals to an 11-0 run-rule win.
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Her bomb over the left-center field fence came off of third baseman Brooke Walden’s bat.
“Right before I went to bat, I thought maybe I should use Brooke’s bat,” the senior remarked. “I said, ‘maybe I can hit home runs like you.’ I grabbed it, and then I hit it. It was funny.”
Her teammates rushed the second baseman at home plate for a three-pronged celebration. First was the obvious, Gilbert’s towering shot. The second was in response to the team’s sixth straight win. Third, Gilbert’s longball marked the team’s 18th home run this year, a new single-season program mark.
“That’s a goal we’ve been trying for all season, so it was great to finally break that,” Gilbert said. “We have a lineup all the way through. You never have to worry.”
On Thursday, the Royals bat left no doubt with 13 combined hits, including six extra-base knocks. Peyton West connected for a double during the team’s four-run first inning. Black lined two doubles and went 2-for-3. Paige Wickard was 2-for-3 with two RBIs, and Hannah Lewis had an RBI triple as a pinch hitter.
Walden, however, went yard first. Crushing her seventh home run of the year — two shy of tying the single-season record — the Anderson University recruit drove in a pair in the fourth as she launched the ball out to put Eastern Hancock (14-3) up 8-0.
“She’s ridiculous. She’s so good. She’s awesome this year. You can always rely on her. If she doesn’t get a home run, she gets a great hit,” Gilbert said. “There’s never a time when you have to worry about her. Even in the field. When the ball is hit to her, I’ll honestly start for the dugout because I know.”
Walden opened the game with the Royals first hit, a two-out single that she slashed down the third-base line. A double by West drove her in, which Black followed up with a RBI-double. Wickard’s single made it 3-0 before a throwing error scored the Royals’ fourth run.
RBI singles by Wickard and Skyla Smith in the third increased the lead to 6-0.
“We didn’t play really well last night. We won 15-4 (against Wes-Del), but we didn’t play like we could. We were on a mission this evening and I think they responded really well,” Eastern Hancock head coach Pat Medler said. “Kaysi has been swinging hot, and our top five and six hitters have been bringing it. Everyone is swinging the bat well. That’s not been the problem. The problem has been some defensive mistakes, but we’re getting better. I’m encouraged.”
The Royals committed two fielding errors, but neither hurt Bittinger in the circle en route to the win. The sophomore scattered three hits, walked two and struck out five.
With runners in scoring position in the top of the first — the lead runner on via an error — Bittinger closed the frame out with a ground out and a swinging strikeout. The Tigers (5-5) loaded the bases in the third with the lead runner getting on with an error, but Bittinger induced a fly to center to end the threat.
Eriel Truitt kicked off the Royals’ final push in the bottom of the fifth with a lead-off single. She went 2-for-3. Lewis scored brought her home and reached third before Gilbert’s final swing.
The Royals have only lost two games this year to 3A No. 1 New Palestine and 4A No. 18 Hamilton Southeastern. They beat 2A No. 4 Northeastern 6-5 on Tuesday. Yet, they haven’t been able to stay in the state ranking’s top 10 despite winning.
“We keep dropping in the polls. I’m not quite sure why. There’s not really a lot of respect there, but it doesn’t really make any difference to me,” Medler said. “It doesn’t really mean much to us. We’re just trying to be competitive and right now, we’re pretty competitive.”
Eastern Hancock 11, Triton Central 0, 5 innings
WP: Elise Bittinger LP: Maecy Speece
HR: K. Gilbert, B. Walden (EH). 3B: H. Lewis (EH). 2B: P. West, M. Black.
RBI: K. Gilbert 2, B. Walden 2, P. Wickard 2, P. West, M. Black, S. Smith, H. Lewis (EH).
Notables: E. Bittinger 5.0 IP, 3 H, 2 BB, 5 K (EH).