RIVERSIDE — The runs just weren’t coming for the Highland softball team on Wednesday night. Just under one month since beating Lone Tree 9-5 in their only regular season matchup, the Huskies fell 2-1 in the Class 1A Region 8 quarterfinals.
Starting pitchers Grace Batcheller of Highland and Abby Buckman of Lone Tree traded perfect innings early. The game didn’t see a base runner until Sarah Burton and Dani Laughlin reached with bunt singles in the bottom of the third, but the game stayed scoreless.
Batcheler’s perfect game was broken up by Buckman, who hit a two-out double to center field in the fourth, but Batcheller stranded her on second, and after another scoreless half inning for the Huskies, the game was still scoreless after four.
Lone Tree struck first blood in the top of the fifth inning. Sarah Brandson hammered a solo home run to left field to give the Lions a one-run lead, which would wind up the last lead change of the game. The top of the fifth would end with a falling catch by Laughlin in center.
Lone Tree scored their second run of the game in the sixth inning. Hogan Eden knocked a run in off relief pitcher Jessica Kraus, who came in to start the sixth. Laughlin made another great catch to help keep the game at 2-1, this time leaping up to make a catch on a ball toward the center field fence.
Highland cut the Lions’ lead in half in the bottom of the seventh. Carson Mellinger lined a two-out single into the outfield. She was stranded on first base, setting up a tense seventh inning.
Kraus held the Lions at bay in the bottom of the seventh inning. Highland’s first two batters of the seventh went quietly, but the Huskies put one final run together with two outs.
Eighth-grader Payton Brun lined a single into the outfield to reach with two down. She took second base on a wild pitch and stole third as Burton drew a 3-2 count. Buckman struck out Burton with a pitch on the inside corner, however, and the Huskies’ season was over.
“We knew exactly what (Buckman) would do, and we weren’t successful at the plate, like we should have been,” said Highland head coach Carrie Weiland. “We just didn’t do a lot of the things right that we practiced.”
Lone Tree moved on to play top-seeded Lisbon in the regional semifinals. Highland ends their season at 9-7, but the Huskies have the vast majority of their group coming back next year. Highland’s roster includes just one senior and three juniors.
“We’re really impressed with what our young kids did,” said Coach Weiland. “We’ll be back next year with a little bit of fire.”