By STUART GROSKREUTZ
OAK PARK HEIGHTS – A first-inning solo homer was the only run support Hannah Heacox required as Stillwater cruised to a 4-0 Suburban East Conference softball victory over East Ridge on Wednesday.
Heacox allowed five hits and struck out eight in the complete game as the Ponies (10-6 SEC, 10-6) gear up for a rugged final push towards the end of the regular season. Stillwater faces conference champion and No. 2 ranked Forest Lake (15-1, 15-1), which suffered its first loss of the season to Roseville 5-4 on Tuesday, tonight before closing out the regular season with games against Eagan, Hastings and Hill-Murray.
"We’d like to go up (to Forest Lake) and make a statement and we’re still working hard for second place (in the conference)," Stillwater coach Bob Beedle said. "What we’re doing is trying to build some momentum and we’re playing tough teams down the stretch. All of our games have importance and our goal is to build some momentum and beat some good teams and feel good about ourselves going into sections."
Allison Eder-Zdechlik helped the Ponies feel good going into the second inning on Wednesday as she launched a two-out pitch over the fence in right-center for a 1-0 lead. Stillwater extended its lead with two runs in the third. Dani Wigen beat out an infield single and Carlie Hart walked before Haley Balzart pushed a bunt towards a vacated spot near second base that allowed her to reach and Wigen raced around to score from second. Eder-Zdechlik reached on a single to the hole at shortstop.
"We scored two runs without the ball leaving the infield," Beedle said. "We did an excellent job of executing our bunts and running the bases."
East Ridge pitcher Michaela Anderson retired the first two batters in the fifth inning before the Ponies rallied to add another run for a 4-0 advantage. Eder-Zdechlik reached second on an error in the outfield and Natalie Gerber delivered a base hit to push another run across to collect her team-leading 15th RBI this season.
It was more than enough support for Heacox, who did issue five walks but they were each to the first three hitters in the lineup – following the game plan of pitching carefully to those batters.
"Hannah had fairly good control of the game," Beedle said. "She issued the walks, but we were intentionally pitching around those hitters and, beyond that, they didn’t have much success so that strategy worked."
East Ridge0 0 0 0 0 0 0-051
Stillwater1 0 2 0 1 0 x-460
WP: Hannah Heacox 7-ip, 5-h, 0-r, 0-er, 5-bb, 8-so
LP: Michaela Anderson 6-ip, 6-h, 4-r, 3-er, 1-bb, 9-so
Leading hitters: ER, Megan Tarara 2×3 and Anna Roth 2×3; St, Natalie Gerber 2×2 (RBI), Allison Eder-Zdechlik 2xx3 (HR, 2 runs, 2 RBI), Haley Balzart 1×3 (RBI) and Dani Wigen 1×2 (run).