KNIGHTSTOWN — In their third meeting of the season, Hagerstown had some answers for the powerful hitting attack of Eastern Hancock, Class 2A’s third-ranked softball team.

But the Tigers never did figure out Royals’ junior pitching standout Kenna Stewart.

Stewart struck out a season-high 15 batters, improved to 10-1 on the season, and led Eastern Hancock to the semifinal round of the Knightstown Sectional with a 4-0 victory Monday.

Stewart threw a three-hitter, all singles, with two coming in the first inning. Only four balls were hit out of the infield.

In a regular season game on April 17, the Royals beat the Tigers 15-0. Stewart and Tatem Adams combined for a five-inning, one-hitter. Alina Alford and Brooklyn Willis each had home runs in the game. On May 11, in a tournament at Connersville, Eastern hit six home runs and beat Hagerstown 13-3. Adams threw a six-inning complete game for the win. Willis and Lilli Ringer both had two home runs. Addisyn Trackwell and Emily Hodges had home runs.

“We tried to prepare them for it, but when you play a team three times, it’s always tough,” Eastern Hancock head coach David Trackwell said. “They’ve got a little bit better game plan against you, and they did a phenomenal job calling pitches, getting us off balance and trying to go backside which takes away our power. It was a great coaching move, and I applaud (coach Bruce Charles) for that. Third time, they knew who to stay away from and some of those other teammates stepped up to the plate and came through for their team. That’s what’s so good about the game.”

On Monday, all the runs the Royals needed came on a third-inning solo home run from Alford, her fourth of the season and second against the Tigers.

Hagerstown pitcher Rylan Young had retired the first six Royals, the first four by strikeout, but the left-handed hitting Alford hit a blast off the rightfield scoreboard to give Eastern a 1-0 advantage.

“It definitely took the pressure off to some degree,” coach Trackwell said of Alford’s hit. “You don’t want to chase from behind, that’s always the X factor. When she came up and hit that ball (off the scoreboard) that was just phenomenal, great for her confidence and the team. It relieved a little pressure off our defense. We could play a little more relaxed, definitely took the goose egg off the board. And it’s (Alford’s) senior year, that’s amazing for her, I’m so happy for her.”

The Royals, who came into the game averaging 9.5 runs per contest, didn’t get much else off Young, but they didn’t need to.

Stewart was in total control after a brief first-inning scare.

Hagerstown’s Allison Stinson hit a one-out single to left field. She moved to third base on Hannah Pyle’s single down the rightfield line. Young struck out for the second out, and when Stinson veered off third base just enough Eastern Hancock freshman catcher Camryn Blue rifled a throw to third baseman Lilli Ringer, who put the tag on for the final out of the inning.

“That was huge and she’s a freshman. I love Bug,” Stewart said, calling the catcher by her nickname. “This is my first year here (as a transfer from Pendleton Heights) and her first year here and I think we’ve bonded, especially over that. We have a great thing going and her instinct to go three…perfect. It was huge. That was a runner on third that could have scored and changed the entire game and momentum.”

The Tigers didn’t get another hit, or hit the ball out of the infield, until a two-out sixth inning single to short centerfield by Stinson. She moved to second on a wild pitch, but was left stranded.

The Royals added another run in the fifth without a hit.

Alford led off with a walk. Pinch-runner Sydney Johnson moved to second on a sacrifice bunt and to third on a throwing error by the Hagerstown third baseman on a ground ball off the bat of Blue. Willis followed with a sacrifice fly.

With a slim 2-0 lead heading into the bottom of the sixth, the Royals added two more insurance runs.

Sammie Bolding and Addisyn Trackwell opened the inning with back-to-back doubles. With two outs, Emree Truitt hit an RBI-single.

The Royals managed just six hits off Young, three coming in the sixth inning. It was a stellar performance compared to her two previous outings against Eastern Hancock. She threw in both games and gave up 10 runs in 3.2 innings.

Her strong performance versus Stewart on Monday made for a tight game.

The Royals had some chances to add on more runs, but failed to score.

Following the Alford home run, Eastern got back-to-back one-out singles from Blue and Willis. Both moved up a base on a Bolding flyout to rightfield, but were left stranded. In the fourth, Eastern got its leadoff hitter, Ringer, on with an error, but she was later caught stealing. Another runner was thrown out at third base in the fifth inning.

The closeness of the game is just the way Stewart likes it. She had her previous high in strikeouts, 14, in a close 3-0 win over Frankton and had 12 Ks in a 2-1 win over Lapel.

“I always do great under pressure,” Stewart said. “That’s one of my, I think, best characteristics. I love pressure. I don’t use it as stress. I use it as drive to give my 110 percent and be there for my teammates. Keeping them from scoring helped us win, even when we weren’t scoring. We had some clutch moments and have some great hitters that will do their job eventually and make adjustments to their pitcher.”

Hagerstown finished the year 16-5, with three of its losses coming to Eastern Hancock.

The Royals (23-2) move on to a Wednesday semifinal game against Shenandoah (14-8), runners-up to the Royals in the Mid-Eastern Conference. On May 8, at Eastern, the Royals beat the Raiders 5-0. Adams threw a four-hit shutout with seven strikeouts in the win.

“We told them it’s one game at a time,” coach Treadwell said. “You play these teams x-amount of times and the score was whatever, it doesn’t matter, anyone can get beat on any given day. And, there’s still luck involved and you have to have some breaks.

“We’ve got to show up, be ready, nothing is going to be handed to us. Every pitch is going to have to be earned. Hopefully we can grow from (Monday’s) game, and come Wednesday execute where we need to execute and advance to Friday.”

Wednesday’s game starts at 5:30 p.m. at Knightstown High School.

Eastern Hancock 4, Hagerstown 0

Hagerstown (16-5);000;000;0; —;0;3;3

Eastern Hancock (23-2);001;012;x; — ;4;6;0

Rylan Young and Allison Stinson; Kenna Stewart and Camryn Blue. 2B: EH – Sammie Bolding, Addisyn Trackwell. HR: EH – Alina Alford (4). WP: Stewart (10-1). LP: Young (15-3).