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Vikings come up short ... again

For the second straight year, the Huntington North softball team lost in the championship game at semistate. This time, they fell 5-2 to the Hamilton Southeastern Royals in a Class 4A game in West Lafayette. Check out the highlights, led by the pitching duel between Savannah Copeland and Eric Rethlake.

After loss,Vikings wonder what if

– The range of emotions for the Huntington North softball team Saturday was a marked one, after they advanced to the championship game of the Class 4A semistate with a 2-0 victory over top-ranked, previously unbeaten Crown Point, only to lose to Hamilton Southeastern 5-2 at Harrison.

Making matters worse for the 14th-ranked Vikings was that they squandered a no-out, bases-loaded opportunity in the first inning against 20th-ranked Hamilton Southeastern and fell behind in the third after a disputed call that followed several discussions, amid several minutes, by three umpires.

“We played a great game against a great team in Crown Point. And I knew this (Hamilton Southeastern) team here was tough. They knocked off some big guns this year,” said Huntington North coach Paris Seibold, who reflected on the missed first-inning opportunity when Royals freshman pitcher Savannah Copeland stuck out three straight batters to strand three Vikings runners.

“If we could have punched up something there, it might have been different.”

In the second inning, Huntington North’s Kentucky-bound pitcher, senior Erin Rethlake, struck out Brittany Turner. But on the third strike, freshman catcher Aubrey Eckert bobbled the ball and never made a throw to first, thinking she didn’t need one. That led to a dropped-third-strike call that put Turner on first base, even though the ball didn’t touch the ground. A Natalie Heiniger double made it 1-0 and Madi Maloof increased the lead with an RBI single that came off the glove of diving leftfielder Alexa Hill, a sophomore.

“That’s one of those calls, I don’t agree with it, but three of them decided it,” Seibold said. “They said it hit (the catcher’s) glove and then her body and then came up into the air and into her glove. They said, since it touched the body, she has to go to first. Well, I didn’t see it hit her body.”

The Royals went up 3-0 in the fifth inning when Heiniger hit a line drive to senior first baseman Kaylynn Rosen, who dropped the ball and still made the out. But the extra second to get that out cost her, as the throw home to stop Sydney Payne was late.

Hamilton Southeastern (19-10) secured the victory in the sixth when Ally Goley followed singles from Maggie Armstrong and Shelby Mager with an RBI triple to make it 5-0.

In the seventh, Eckert and junior Maddi Kennedy both scored for Huntington North (25-5) on wild pitches.

Copeland gave up six hits, struck out 13 and walked three. Rethlake gave up five hits, struck out 13 and didn’t walk anyone.

“We’re losing eight seniors, so everyone is pretty sad,” said Kennedy, whose Vikings lost to Portage in the 2013 semistate championship game. “But everyone coming back knows we have to do so with a fire in our belly. We’re going to have a great team next year and there’s absolutely no reason we shouldn’t be seen here again. Hopefully we can come back and have a little bit of a chip on our shoulder.”

In the earlier game, Rethlake struck out 11 batters and gave up only two hits, as the Vikings got only two hits off Crown Point (29-1) and its Oregon-committed sophomore pitcher Miranda Elish, while Hamilton Southeastern got a 4-3 victory over third-ranked Penn (26-5).

jcohn@jg.net

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