RIVERSIDE — Coaches hate when their team allows free bases and with good reason.
Two free bases led to half of Van Buren’s runs when Lexi Jirak jacked a bases-loaded home run against Highland Wednesday in a Class 2A Region 8 quarterfinal. The fifth-inning grand slam gave the Warriors a 4-3 win over the Huskies.
Van Buren (15-11) advances to play Pekin (18-13) Friday.
Highland’s season ends with a ledger of 17 wins and nine losses. The Huskies had won seven of their last eight and nine of 11.
“I am so very disappointed because I really thought this was the team that I could take to state,” Highland coach Carrie Wieland said.
She was seen hugging her seniors in the outfield after the game.
“I’m really going to miss them,” Wieland said. “There’s not a whole lot you can say. I just tell them good luck and thanks for everything. They really wanted to go on and keep playing but we had one bad inning. That error killed us and Megan (Hoenig) never walks anybody.”
Those two events sandwiched a base hit which brought Jirak to the plate.
“I’m not sure what the pitch was because her pitches were doing weird things,” Jirak said of Hoenig, who had issued just seven bases on balls in 120 innings pitched this season. “I do know it was the second pitch of that at bat.”
Hoenig struck out seven and gave up seven hits.
“I felt like the strike zone was really inconsistent, so it hurt Megan,” Wieland said. “Their coach was yelling about her in the middle of a pitch. I don’t think that was fair either. It was just a combination of all those things but I guess it was not our night.”
Twice Highland runners were called out at home.
“We got two bad calls at home plate,” Wieland said. “Either one of those changes the game. The first one was a great slide by Carson (Mellinger) and he didn’t seem to know where the plate was. The second one, I think Emily was safe.”
The first one was in the fourth inning after the Huskies had already scored twice. Abbie Miller led off with a single, advanced on a sacrifice, then Sarah Schneider singled and stole second. Ellie Anderson plated a run with a hit and Mellinger pinch ran for her. Abbi Stransky laced a single to centerfield, scoring Schneider and seemingly Mellinger until the umpire called her out. It was the second out.
“I think it was the big that he called Carson out,” Wieland said. “That really shut down that inning. I think that would’ve been a much bigger inning for us.”
The Huskies would have had a runner on second and one out. Instead it ended with a ground out and the lead was 3-0 after four innings.
Highland got a runner on with Dani Laughlin’s hit in the bottom of the fifth, but couldn’t advance her.
Emily Yahnke, who reached on a dropped third strike and eventually scored in the second inning, led off the sixth inning with a triple, then tried to score on Schneider’s ground out.
“I think it was big that we didn’t tie it there,” Wieland said. “Emily got a late jump on it, but she is so fast.”
“Our third baseman did a good job checking that runner so we could throw her out at home,” Van Buren coach Randy Smith said. “We got another out at home with a good throw. It was close. I couldn’t tell if she was safe or not. We got the call anyway.”
Smith complained about Hoenig’s pitching
“Megan got frustrated with that coach yelling,” Wieland said. “I have to admit it was good timing by him. I think that (home run) pitch she had was not even going to be a strike. That girl hit it way out in front.”
Wieland lamented the missed chances.
“We didn’t hit the ball. We didn’t do the things that we should’ve done. We had a lot of postseason plans. Our seniors wanted it very bad. It was a great group. We had a great year. I just really felt like this was our chance of going to state. We had a good draw.”
Iowa City Regina (No. 7) and Wilton (No. 11) were the two ranked teams in the Huskies bracket and both lost Wednesday. West Branch (18-17) beat Regina 3-1 and advances to play Southeast Iowa Super Conference member Wapello (15-12) Friday. Wilton lost to Pekin 6-3.
Highland defeated Wapello twice this year and split with Pekin.
“There were a lot of things that could’ve happened, should’ve happened,” Wieland said. “There were a lot of what ifs.”