By STUART GROSKREUTZ
MAPLEWOOD – The Stillwater softball team scored an impressive victory while knocking off Hill-Murray 2-1 in Wednesday’s regular season finale.
The Ponies (13-7) held on despite some anxious moments in the final two innings to knock off Hill-Murray just one day after the Pioneers (16-2) wrapped up the Classic Suburban Conference championship with a 4-2 extra-inning victory over top-ranked North St. Paul.
"This is a signature win," Stillwater coach Bob Beedle said. "I think the game was a testimonial to the strength of our conference. I think we proved tonight that our conference was a strong conference."
Hill-Murray, which had its 13-game winning streak snapped by the Ponies, and North St. Paul are likely to earn the top two seeds in the Section 4AAA tourney when the draw is released on Thursday. The Ponies will finish either second or third in the Suburban East Conference based on White Bear Lake’s game against East Ridge on Friday.
In a game that was tight throughout, Stillwater scratched for a run in the top of the fifth to grab a 1-0 lead. Dani Wigen drew a two-out walk and stole second base before Carlie Hart beat out an infield hit. When the ball slipped away after the late throw to first, Wigen scampered home to break the scoreless tie.
The Ponies added a run in the sixth on a sacrifice fly by Rachel Hartwig for a two-run cushion. Allison Eder-Zdechlik led off with a single and stole second before Natalie Gerber drove a pitch back up the middle for a hit that Beedle expected would score the run easily until it caromed off second base. Eder-Zdechlik was hung up in a rundown before getting tagged out, but Gerber hustled into third on the play and later scored on Hartwig’s sacrifice fly.
"We got the run, but it seemed like we earned it twice," Beedle said.
Hill-Murray threatened in each of the final two innings and closed to within 2-1 after a solo homer by Stephanie Borndale. Lindsey Klein followed with a base hit, but the Ponies doubled her off first base after a failed sacrifice bunt attempt was caught for the first out.
The Pioneers still weren’t finished after the No. 8 and 9 hitters reached against Heacox, who allowed seven hits and two walks while striking out 11 in the complete game. Hill-Murray’s normal lead-off batter Nicole Thompson, however, was ejected from the game in the sixth inning for not sliding and contacting the catcher while trying to score.
With a bench player now up in that spot, Heacox struck out Rachel Evenson to end the game.
"Hill put a lot of pressure on, but couldn’t get it done," Beedle said.
The Pioneers used consecutive singles to threatened in the sixth inning before a line-out and fly-out to Wigen in center for the first two outs. Hill-Murray did not tag on the first liner, which appeared destined for the gap and Thompson was called out trying to score on the next ball to Wigen.
"Heacox threw five really strong innings and then they started to get to her in the sixth and seventh," Beedle said. "They were catching up to her speed a little bit and got real tough those last two innings."
Sydney Fabian pitched well for the Pioneers, allowing eight hits and two walks with four strikeouts, Neither of the runs scored against her were earned.
"We’re pretty happy with the way we’re playing recently," said Beedle, whose team has won five of its last six, with the only setback during that stretch a 1-0 loss against No. 2 ranked Forest Lake. "Other than Forest Lake, we’ve put together a nice run here. We think we’re hitting on all cylinders and feel pretty good about our chances (in the section tourney)."
Stillwater0 0 0 0 1 1 0-280
Hill-Murray0 0 0 0 0 0 1-171
WP: Hannah Heacox (11-3) 7-ip, 7-h, 1-r, 1-er, 2-bb, 11-so
LP: Sydney Fabian 7-ip, 8-h, 2-r, 0-er, 2-bb, 4-so
Leading hitters: St, Carlie Hart 3×4, Allison Eder-Zdechlik 1×3, Natalie Gerber 1×3, Sidnee Ronsberg 1×2, Emily Ramberg 1×2 and Dani Wigen 1×2; H-M, Stephanie Borndale 1×3 (HR, RBI) and Lindsey Klein 2×3 (2B).