With nine first-year players on the roster, 2021 may have some mountains to climb for the Hillsboro High School softball team, but the Toppers’ last two games showed that they are taking steps in the right direction.
Hillsboro led for much of their game against Taylorville on April 26, before falling to the Tornadoes 9-3 at the Hillsboro Sports Complex. Their next game was even closer as they fell to North Mac 5-3 in Virden.
After being no-hit in their first two games, the Toppers rattled the bats some against Taylorville, with Haley Major getting the first hit of the season. Major’s base knock would come in the first inning and she would later score Hillsboro’s first run of the season as well.
The Tornadoes would tie things up in the second with a solo run, but Hillsboro got that one back after Sophia Blankenship led off the second with a base hit and scored to make it 2-1.
Another inning, another leadoff hit and another run gave Hillsboro a 3-1 lead after Taelyn Smith doubled and scored in the third, but storms loomed for the Hiltoppers.
After a scoreless fourth, Taylorville scored five times without the benefit of a hit as the Tornadoes reached base on three walks and four errors.
Another error led to another run in the sixth, with two more errors contributing to two more runs in the seventh inning. All told, Hillsboro would commit eight errors in the game, leading to seven unearned runs for the Tornadoes.
The mistakes in the field spoiled a solid outing for Hillsboro starter Taelyn Smith, who struck out ten and walked five while giving up four hits.
Smith also had two of Hillsboro’s five base knocks, with Major, Blankenship and freshman Aubrey Evans accounting for the other three.
Errors haunted the Toppers against North Mac as well, with nine miscues leading to three unearned runs in the 5-3 loss.
The game started on a high note, with Taelyn Smith and Haley Major both singling and scoring to give Hillsboro a 2-0 lead.
North Mac would get one of those runs back in the bottom half of the inning, but Smith would coast through the next two innings on the mound to hold the Panthers scoreless.
Two hits and two errors turned into two runs for North Mac in the bottom of the fourth, giving them a 3-2 lead, but Hillsboro rattled the bats again in the top of the fifth to tie the game at 3-3.
After a leadoff single by Smith and a walk to Major, North Mac picked up out number one, but couldn’t keep the Toppers off the board. Aubrey Evans singled to drive in one run, but Hillsboro was unable to get any more and had to settle for the tie.
The knotted score was temporary though, as North Mac scored another run in the fifth off an error, a fielder’s choice and a single, then plated one more in the sixth off a single and two errors.
Hillsboro would have the two, three and four spots up in the top of the seventh, but North Mac’s Kayla Gillespie got stronger as the game went on, retiring the final six batters on strikes, including the three in the seventh inning.
While a loss in the scorebook, the game gives Hillsboro something to build on as they outhit their opponents for the second straight game, with Smith and Major contributing two hits each and Evans, Summer Smith and Ally Devore adding one apiece.
Taelyn Smith was also good again on the mound, allowing just six hits and two earned runs, while striking out two and walking none.
With the bats starting to wake up, the key for Hillsboro is to now shore up the defense. They will have the first opportunity to do that on Thursday, April 29, weather permitting, when they take on Carlinville at home, followed by a trip to Lincolnwood on Friday, April 30.
April 26 at Hillsboro
Taylorville 010 051 2 9 4 6
Hillsboro 111 000 0 3 5 8
Taylorville IP R ER H K BB
W-Wright 7 3 2 5 8 1
Hillsboro IP R ER H K BB
L-T. Smith 7 9 2 4 10 5
Multiple Hits: Hillsboro - Taelyn Smith 2-4; Taylorville - Hardin 2-4. 2B: Hillsboro - Taelyn Smith 1; Taylorville - Hardin 1. Runs: Hillsboro - Haley Major 1, Sophia Blankenship 1, Taelyn Smith 1.
April 27 at Virden
Hillsboro 200 010 0 3 7 9
North Mac 100 211 x 5 6 2
Hillsboro IP R ER H K BB
L-T. Smith 6 5 2 6 2 0
North Mac IP R ER H K BB
W-Gillespie 7 3 3 7 14 2
Multiple Hits: Hillsboro - Haley Major 2-3, Taelyn Smith 2-4; North Mac - Patterson 2-4, Hendricks 2-4. Runs: Hillsboro - Haley Major 2, Taelyn Smith 1. RBI: Hillsboro - Aubrey Evans 1.
Record: Hillsboro (0-4).