BY JOHN DUBOIS
Bismarck-Henning coach Mike Stephens said his team was disappointed in their execution at the Rantoul tournament this past weekend.
That changed on Monday as the Blue Devils played flawless defense behind the pitching of Emmie Hawkins and they scored five runs in the final two innings to beat the Schlarman Academy Hilltoppers 6-3 at Winter Park in a Vermilion Valley Conference softball contest.
Hawkins allowed six hits while striking out four and walking two.
“Emmie showed a lot of composure for a sophomore,’’ Stephens said. “She struggled a lot with her control last year and today she did a very nice job of focusing with runners on base.
“We also played really good defense behind her with Lauren McKenzie at third and Lexi Ballard in center both making some nice plays.’’
McKenzie and Ballard are both seniors.
“We knew we would be strong in the field this season,’’ Ballard said. “We were focused on coming out hard today and knew this was serious time starting the conference season and that we had a chance to make a statement with a win.’’
For the first time in 12 years the Hilltoppers have a new coach with Schlarman Academy alum Mary Lovejoy taking over for Randy Skaggs.
“Errors got the better of us today,’’ Lovejoy said. “We have a very young team with a lot of new girls and we are all growing together. We have shown a lot of improvement since the start of the season and this is new experience for myself as a coach and for a lot of the players. We are in a lot of ways starting from scratch but our goal is to uphold the expectations that were established for the program by Coach Skaggs.
“It’s a lot different being a coach than it is a player and it’s going to be a journey. We have some great coaches on our team and we have some team leaders like Sydne Bryant and Maria Rangel who have been a great help to me as begin to establish my identity as a coach.’’
Rangel pitched for the Hilltoppers and allowed five hits while striking out five and walking four.
The Hilltoppers got out to a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first on an RBI double from Elizabeth Hawkins and a run-scoring single from Lexi Rangel.
Hawkins would single leading off the second for the Blue Devils and scored on an error to get Bismarck-Henning on the board. The score would remain 2-1 until the top of the sixth.
“We made a lot of good plays to keep the score at 2-1,’’ Stephens said. “I’m not sure how the game turns out if we are down three or four runs going into the sixth instead of just one, because the larger deficit puts a lot more pressure on your pitcher.’’
Ballard would single home a run to tie the score 2-2, a pair of errors and an RBI walk from freshman Phoenix LaCombe would give the Blue Devils the lead and Bismarck-Henning would add a third run to take a 4-2 lead.
“We couldn’t get the big hits early in the game,’’ Stephens said. “Ballard got us going and Phoenix got a huge walk to give us the lead.’’
The Blue Devils put a lot of pressure on the Hilltopper defense with bunts.
“Coach does like the small ball game,’’ Ballard said. “We know we have to hit better as a team. We normally bunt well but didn’t at Rantoul. We were able to step up and make some big plays today.’’
Bryant would drive in a run on a bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the sixth, but the Blue Devils were able to add two more runs in the top of the seventh to put the game away.
Both teams return to action today.
The Blue Devils (1-3 and 1-0 in the VVC) are at home to face the Covington Trojans, while the Hilltoppers (0-5 and 0-1) are at home against Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley.