PICKERINGTON — The first time is always the hardest.
The Highland High School softball team captured its first district title ever, but it needed a last-inning rally to beat Northridge, 3-2, on Saturday at Pickerington Central High School.
“This is very exciting, a big win. The girls are very proud of the banner they’re going to be able to put up,” said Highland coach Enid Claxon.
The Scots (20-9) earned that district banner in dramatic fashion, scoring two runs in the top of the seventh inning to edge the second-seeded Vikings (26-3).
Jamie Eblin got all the way to second on a throwing error by Kimber Hazlett, then moved to third on a bunt single by Abby Keen. Cassie Brown then came through with her third hit, and her biggest one, of the day. Brown’s single scored Eblin to tie the game.
“That was crazy, I was so nervous. It was such a rush, but I knew I was going to do it,” Brown said of her single. “There was no doubt we were going to win. Highland’s never went this far before and I’m excited we’re the ones to do it.”
Krista Chapman followed with a bunt single and Keen scored from second base on the play when the throw pulled Northridge first baseman Cassie Davison off the bag and she couldn’t get the throw to home plate in time.
“It’s been really great. We don’t give up. When you put the ball in play, things happen and today we came out on top,” said Claxon.
Highland fans weren’t able to breathe just yet, though, as Northridge’s Taylor Mann singled with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning. But, two nice defensive plays, something the Scots had done all day, put the game away.
The Scots turned three double plays defensively, including an unconventional 2-8 double play in the fifth. The Vikings had runners on first and second when Kayla Davison popped up to Highland catcher McKenzi Rhodes. After catching the ball, Rhodes fired to centerfielder Krista Chapman, who was covering second base and nabbed Emily Scott, who had strayed too far off the base.
“Our defense was fantastic. They played amazing. Three double plays — you can’t ask for anything more out of your defense,” Claxon said.
The first double play, a conventional 6-4-3 DP, ended a Northridge threat in the first inning, while the second killed a major threat in the third. The Vikings had runners on first and third base when Hazlett flew out to center field. Chapman then nailed Davison, who had strayed too far from first base, to complete the double play and keep Jessica Simmons, who was on third, from scoring.
“Our defense was ridiculous. We’ve never played like that before,” Brown said. “I have so much confidence with them behind me.”
Highland threatened to score in the first inning, but after a double from Brown and a bunt single from Payton Denman, Hazlett was able to get out of the inning by striking out the next two batters.
Northridge got a run in the first when Simmons walked, moved to second on a balk and to third on a sacrifice bunt by Davison. Simmons then scored when Hazlett reached on an error.
Highland finally got to Hazlett in the fifth, scoring with two outs when Brown singled and scored on a double by Chapman.
Northridge scored what it thought to be the winning run in the sixth inning when Hazlett doubled to lead off the inning and two straight groundouts got her home.
But, that just set up the Scots’ furious rally that sent them on to regional play for the first time ever. They will play at Wright State University on Thursday against Casstown Miami East, which beat Blanchester, 8-1, in its district final. Saturday’s game was the first district final appearance for the Scots since 1995 when they lost to Columbus Bishop Ready.
Brown led the Scots on Saturday with three hits, including a double, and an RBI. Chapman added a single, double and two RBI, while Denman, Rhodes and Katie Johnson all singled.
Northridge got a double each from Simmons and Hazlett. Davison, Barclay, Scott and Chelsea Tietz all singled, with Tietz also driving in a run.
Brown allowed six hits and one walk while striking out three batters from the mound.
Hazlett, who was especially strong early, struck out 11 Scot batters while allowing nine hits. She did not walk a batter.