Hopes of having a local softball champion were dashed Friday afternoon when Blanchard was knocked out of the 4A state tournament in the semifinal round by top-ranked Hilldale 5-2.
In cool conditions with showers coming and going, the Lady Lions found it difficult to get a hit off the pitching of Destiny Riddle, who recorded nine strikeouts and let up just two hits. Lauren Miller's single in the seventh followed by a two-run home run shot by Blanchard pitcher Ashli Hafford were a few late instances of solid Lions offense.
"We got rattled early and seemed to not snap out of it." Blanchard head coach Joe Miller said. "They played great after they settled in. We committed some errors, which cost us the ballgame, obviously. We just couldn't overcome that."
On top of her performance on the mound, Riddle proved a challenge from the plate, setting up two runs while going one-for-three and recording an RBI.
A walk and an error early on is what rattled Blanchard. The throw to first to get Hilldale's Casady Mills out went high, sending Mills running all the way to third and bringing in a run. Hafford held her nerve, however, and struck out two batters to end the inning without further incident.
Despite giving up eight walks, Riddle kept the Lady Lions from stringing anything together. She recorded a strikeout in every inning but the fifth, and more than once left Blanchard base runners stranded.
"We had bases loaded early with our two best hitters up, and both of them struck out, which hasn't happened all year," Miller said. "As a coach you take that gamble that you're going to get that hit when it's time to hit. It didn't happen for us today."
The third inning put Hilldale over the edge. After Mills walked, Riddle reached base on an error, which ended up bringing Mills around to double the lead. Sarah Hughey then sent one just deep enough in left field to record a double and bring in another run. Hughey then got across home play off a single from Toni McMillan.
The Lady Hornets added another in the fifth, leaving Blanchard with a mountainous task in the last three innings. They managed to show a bit of life when Miller, who has played the hero for Blanchard many times before, singled in the bottom of the seventh. Hafford then stepped up to smash one over the wall in left center, which brought a rapturous reception from the dugout all the way to home plate.
Unfortunately for the Lady Lions, it came just a little too late. With the light rain getting heavier, a strikeout from Riddle sealed Hilldale's trip to the final on Saturday, where they will face Bethel, the team that knocked out Tuttle.
It also sealed the Lady Lions' exit from the tournament and season, in which they recorded a 35-10 record.
"Hilldale's been number one all year long, and we knew it was going to be a dog fight," Miller said. "We did everything we could to prepare for them, and just came up short. I'm very proud of our team. We had 35 wins this year, and I couldn't ask for any more."