Royals start fast, advance to semifinals

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Eastern Hancock’s Brooklyn Willis arrives at home plate to find her teammates ready to celebrate her grand slam in the top of the second. Eastern Hancock beat Knightstown 21-3 during the Eastern Hancock Class 2A Sectional 42 tournament on Monday, May 23, 2022. (Richard Sitler/Daily Reporter)

CHARLOTTESVILLE — The host Eastern Hancock Royals were officially the visitors on the scoreboard Monday to open the Class 2A Sectional 42 tournament.

However, by the end of the top of the first, the Royals made themselves right at home.

The defending sectional champions sent 15 batters to the plate in the first inning, posted eight of their 20 hits and erupted for an 11-run frame en route to a five-inning, 21-3 run-rule win over rival Knightstown.

The Royals (18-4-1) had six batters finish with multiple hits in their quarterfinal opener, and they blasted a pair of home runs, including a no-doubt, second-inning grand slam from Brooklyn Willis to advance into tonight’s semifinal match-up with Heritage Christian.

The Sectional 42 tournament schedule at Eastern Hancock has been revamped in an attempt to stay ahead of severe weather predicted for later this week.

The semifinal round, which was originally set for Wednesday, will be conducted tonight with Triton Central (10-9) playing Indianapolis Scecina (6-9) at 5 p.m. and Eastern Hancock against Heritage Christian (12-12) to follow.

The sectional final has been rescheduled from Thursday to Wednesday evening at 5:30 p.m.

If the Royals advance to the regional round, they will host as well, but from the initial pitch against Knightstown, Eastern Hancock remained focused on chasing down their third straight sectional title first and foremost.

The Royals collectively logged four singles, two doubles and two triples to take a commanding lead in the opening frame.

By the game’s final out, they finished with three doubles, two triples and a pair of longballs.

“We’re not a one-trick pony. We can put the ball short. We can put it long. I would never guessed we would have started 11-0 in the first inning, though,” Eastern Hancock head coach Terry Stephens said. “I told them, we need to win the first inning, but they came out on fire.”

The Royals didn’t slow down in the top of the second.

Willis’ 10th home run of the season came off the first pitch of her at-bat, and it ballooned Eastern Hancock’s lead from 11-2 to 15-2.

A double by Willis in the top of the third drove in two more runners, including senior Caroline Stapleton (3-for-5), who scored four runs to become the program’s all-time career leader.

Stapleton now has 130 runs scored, which toppled former record holder Jordan Pierson (129), who set the mark from 2013-16.

Willis went 2-for-3 at the plate, scored two runs and drove in six.

“It’s honestly my team, not just me. It takes all of us to get base runners on, not just because I get one hit,” Willis said. “If nobody had been on, then that grand slam would have been just a home run. We went into this game saying, no what ifs. No regrets because if you have that what if, then maybe we wouldn’t have had the outcome we had.”

Willis hit second for the Royals in the sectional opener. During the season, she had been batting clean-up behind Sammie Bolding (3-for-3, home run, three runs, three RBI).

The lineup shift netted immediate results with EH’s first five hitters going 10-for-19 with 13 RBI.

Stapleton drove in a run from the leadoff spot. Kaylee Stewart (1-for-4, two runs) had two RBI hitting behind Bolding, who clubbed her 17th home run of the season in the top of the third from the three hole.

Kaylee Kline went 1-for-4 with an RBI from the fifth spot, and Emma Bolding (2-for-3) scored two runs and drove in a pair with a triple while hitting out of the sixth hole in the lineup.

“We’ve been tinkering with the lineup a little bit. Most of the season, Sammie was in front of Brooklyn, so when you look at our RBI, Brooklyn’s are down because Sammie has been clearing the bases,” Stephens said. “After (Brooklyn) hit that grand slam, I was joking around, and I told her, Sammie gets a taste of her own medicine. ‘You cleared the bases, and now, the most she’s going to get is one RBI.’ It’s kind of like pick your poison.”

On the season, Sammie Bolding has 38 RBI, Brooklyn Willis has 36, Emma Bolding stands at 30 and Kline follows with 24. Willis and Emma Bolding are tied with a team-best seven doubles this season.

“Just to keep it going and hit the way we did, going all the way through, that’s how you start a ball game,” Stephens said.

Taylor Koch went 3-for-3 with two runs, a double and an RBI, while Tatem Adams was 1-for-1 with an RBI. Grace Stapleton finished 2-for-2 with three runs, a double and an RBI.

Madison Stephens collected her 12th win this year, pitching four frames with two hits allowed, three walks and six strikeouts. Adams closed out the game with a two-hit inning and one strikeout.

The Royals lone blemishes were a pair of errors and one of their three runs allowed via a miscue.

“Defense wise and pitching wise, I thought we were off a little bit. At 21-3, they’re probably looking at me like I’m crazy, but we could have been sharper on that,” Terry Stephens said. “We let two runs score on dropped balls at home and Madison had three walks. We can’t give extra outs, no matter what.”

The Royals intend to play cleaner tonight against Heritage Christian despite winning their regular-season meeting 17-0 on May 2 at home.

During that contest, neither program threw their aces. Heritage Christian is led by sophomore pitcher Alayna Tesnar, who sports an 8-7 record with 194 strikeouts in 105.1 innings.

Madison Stephens is now 12-2 with 92 strikeouts in 70.1 innings pitched.

“I know we didn’t throw our ace either, but if our lineup stays calm and collected, we’ll be able to hopefully stay on her. Base hits win games. It’s not always about home runs,” Willis said.

Eastern Hancock 21, Knightstown 3

Eastern Hancock (18-4-1);1145;10x;—;21;20;2

Knightstown (14-13);200;01x;—;3;4;3

HR: Brooklyn Willis, Sammie Bolding (EH). 3B: Emma Bolding, Sammie Bolding (EH). 2B: Taylor Koch, Grace Stapleton, Brooklyn Willis (EH); Zoe Beabout (K).

WP: Madison Stephens (4.0 IP, 2 H, 6 K, 3 BB, 2 R, 2 ER). LP: Zoe Beabout (5.0 IP, 20 H, 3 K, 2 BB, 21 R, 14 ER).

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