The Huskies are known for attacking with a hundred little cuts, but Friday they showed they also can put the big hammer down.
The No. 4 Highland softball team advanced to a Class 2A regional final with a 10-2 win over West Branch.
“It was no secret what we were going to see tonight,” West Branch coach Jason Laing said. “They are very fast. We practiced for it. … We just haven’t seen that kind of speed this year.”
Highland (32-3) has a well-known reputation for putting pressure on the opposing defense with bunts, slaps, steals and aggressive offensive play.
“We’re fast, so people get nervous,” Highland coach Carrie Wieland said. “We bunt and put the ball in play, and if you can’t get to the ball before we get halfway down the line, you’re not getting us out.”
The Huskies used that speed to build a 3-2 lead after five innings on the Bears.
Then, in the final two innings, Highland blasted nine hits — including home runs by Morgan Craig and Cheyanne Adamson — to break the game open.
“A lot of people know we bunt,” Adamson said. “We’re quick, so we make it work.”
Wieland said the power is a new thing for the Huskies, and she credited Highland cross country coach Angie Strobel and her summer workouts for the power surge.
“There’s absolutely nothing that I’ve done, she’s taken care of it,” Wieland said. “They are stronger than I’ve ever had.”
But it was the short game that put the Bears back on their heels Friday.
Highland senior Kassie Vazquez led off with a triple in the top of the second inning and scored on a slap hit by Kelsey Hora.
Vazquez led off the top of the fourth inning with a bunt. Hora hit a sharp chopper to West Branch third baseman Shannon Laing. Laing looked to second for a double play and found no one there. Her throw to first wasn’t in time to catch the speedy Hora.
No. 8 hitter Jordan Rath then bunted and reached on an overthrow to first.
Suddenly, Highland led 3-0.
“That’s what we’ve done all year,” Wieland said. “Put the ball in play, put the pressure on when we have a runner on base.”
It was a tough style to adjust to for a West Branch team that starts three freshmen and two eighth-graders in the field.
“They are very fast, and everyone could see how rattled we were from that,” Laing said. “We just couldn’t process that. It takes you out of the ballgame.
“We were throwing the ball away, missing out on routine outs.”
Highland had a hit every inning and forced the Bears into a couple key miscues.
“Once we get on, we’re on, and it escalates throughout the whole game,” Highland sophomore Bridget Murphy said. “Normally, teams get down; that’s when we get our win.”
West Branch (15-20) showed a little spark in the bottom of the fourth inning. Shannon Laing hit a home run and Mary Baldwin followed with a single. Baldwin’s courtesy runner, Allison Kusick, later scored on a Highland error to make it 3-2.
Highland then pounded out nine hits in the final two innings — including the two home runs — to put the game out of reach.
“We hit through the whole lineup,” Wieland said. “There’s not a weak hitter.”
Eight of the Huskies had at least one hit, with Paige Wieland, Bridget Murphy, Courtnee Hahn, Vazquez, Rath and Adamson each with a pair of hits.
“This is hard for me to say, … but it’s is the best team offensively I’ve had,” coach Wieland said.
Highland advances to face Regina (19-19) in a Class 2A regional final Monday at West High. The winner advances to state.
West Branch loses just one senior — Miranda Wieneke.
“Making it to the third round is a great accomplishment with a team as young as we are,” Laing said. “We knew this was going to be a tough game. They put us in pressure situations, and we really broke down. Everyone did.
“But I’m proud of them. They didn’t give up.”
Springer and Courtnee Hahn; Mary Baldwin and Paige Miller. W – Springer. L – Badlwin. 2B – Courtnee Hahn (H), Mary Baldwin (WB), Jordan Rath (H). 3B – Kelsey Hora (H). HR – Shannon Laing (WB), Morgan Craig (H), Cheyanne Adamson (H).