Kline, Stephens lead Eastern Hancock to sectional title game


LIBERTY — When Eastern Hancock senior catcher Kaylee Kline got knocked down she didn’t just get back up. She got up and delivered the game-deciding hit.

Kline smacked a third-inning two-run home run and it was more than enough for senior pitcher Madison Stephens, who no-hit Northeastern in a 9-0 victory in a semifinal game of the Class 2A Sectional 41 softball tournament at Union County High School Tuesday.

The Royals, ranked No. 9 in Class 2A by the Softball Coaches Association of Indiana, advance to today’s 6 p.m. championship game against the host Patriots, ranked No. 10. It’s the fourth straight time the teams have met in a championship game. The first three were for regional titles. This is the first year they have been in the same sectional tournament.

The high-powered Eastern Hancock (21-6) offense got off to a slow start. It failed to get down sacrifice bunts by three different hitters in the second inning and left the bases loaded.

To add to the rough start, on a foul pop up to start the third inning, Kline and first baseman Grace Stapleton collided. Kline made the catch for the second out of the inning, but she stayed on the ground for a considerable amount of time before resuming her duties behind the plate.

Stephens, who finished with 10 strikeouts, got a strikeout for the final out in the third.

In the bottom half, Northeastern was close to getting out of a jam for the third straight inning. Brooklyn Willis led off with a single, stole second base and went to third on an error, but she was still at third base with two outs.

Kline came up next and hit a deep drive over the centerfield fence to give the Royals a 2-0 lead.

“Once (Kline) hit that home run you could feel everybody exhale,” Eastern Hancock coach Terry Stephens said. “It was like, ‘OK, we got some on the board and now we know we can put some more on the board.’”

Kline and Stapleton hit knees in their collision. Kline said she has had a knee problem. After the incident, she said she stayed calm, took some deep breaths and was ready to go when it was her time to hit.

“Taking deep breaths normally helps me a lot … By the time I was due to hit I was calm and relaxed,” Kline said.

“I was real nervous,” Madison Stephens said of when her catcher was down on the ground. “She’s one of the best players on our team and someone I love very dearly. I was glad she was OK after that scary (play). It’s not surprising she was able to come back (and hit a home run).”

Kline has been dominant at the plate in the tournament. She hit two home runs in Monday’s quarterfinal win.

Madison Stephens has been dominant in the circle. She was pitching a perfect game in Monday’s 14-o blowout of Shenandoah when Tatem Adams entered in relief and had a perfect game going Tuesday with two outs in the fifth when Northeastern’s Emma Neeley reached on an error after striking out.

It was the only Northeastern baserunner.

“I was pleased with her speed,” coach Stephens said of his daughter’s performance in the circle. “She had some zip on the ball tonight and located really well. There were probably only a couple batters that we even got three balls on. I was happy with the speed, location. She was in that zone tonight.”

After Kline got the Royals going with a two-run third inning, Eastern Hancock scored at least one run in each of its remaining at-bats. Emily Hodges got a squeeze bunt down in the fourth to score Stapleton, who had reached on an error. Willis added a two-run double for a 5-0 lead after four.

In the fifth, Kline led off with a single. Her courtesy runner, Emree Truitt, scored on a Hodges single.

In the sixth, Stapleton hit a three-run homer for the final runs of the night.

Union County (20-4) advanced with an 8-4 win over Hagerstown Tuesday.

Last year, in the regional championship, Eastern Hancock beat Union County 3-2. In 2021, Union County defeated the Royals 4-2 to advance to the semi-state. In 2019, Union County was a 7-3 winner.

The teams met in the regular season on May 4 with the Royals coming out on top 10-8.

“It’s incredibly exciting,” Madison Stephens said of playing the Patriots again in a championship game. “They are a good team. We’ve worked all season for this point so I’m excited we were able to reach it again.”

Eastern Hancock 9, Northeastern 0

Northeastern (14-12);000;000;0; — ;0;0;4

Eastern Hancock (21-6);002;313;x; — ;9;9;1

Clare Lopeman and Emma Neeley. Madison Stephens and Kaylee Kline; 2B: EH – Brooklyn Willis. HR: Kline (8), Grace Stapleton (7). WP: Stephens (13-1). LP: Lopeman (8-8).