UNION TWP. | Frustrated by falling behind in the count during her first three trips to the plate, Melissa Balkema attacked the first pitch she saw from Wheeler’s Nickole Finch in the top of the eighth inning.
The Hanover Central shortstop blasted a three-run home run off Finch to give the Times No. 2 Wildcats a 3-0 victory as well as control in the Greater South Shore Conference title race.
Hanover Central improved to 16-2 overall and 10-0 in conference play.
“I was a little angry in the way I had been hitting when I first went up there,” Balkema said. “I told myself that I was going to be swinging at the first strike that I saw. It hit the sweet spot and I knew it was gone. I was cheering all around the bases.”
Balkema’s blast was the only significant offense in a game that was dominated by two of the best pitchers in the area.
Hanover’s Ashley Yoways was perfect over the first 5 2/3 innings before giving up her lone hit of the afternoon to Kadie Spoor. Finch struck out 10 for the Bearcats (10-2, 7-1)and flashed some leather with an impressive catch that ended a Hanover scoring threat in the sixth.
Wheeler coach Marc Bruner was adamant that the outcome of the game wasn’t just on Balkema’s home run.
“They’re a good hitting team and we shut them out for most of the game,” Bruner said. “You can’t expect a pitcher and a defense to shut out a team like that for seven, eight or nine innings. They’re a really good hitting team and Nickole was outstanding. She deserved a better fate than what we gave her. The game was not on our pitcher.”
Yoways (12-2) was in complete control from the start, looking nothing like the pitcher who walked three batters in the first inning of Tuesday’s rain-shortened game against Wheeler.
“Coach (Larry McMillen) was on me to pitch it low,” Yoways said. “I’ve been putting it up high and people have been hitting it off me. I just had to calm down. This was a good win, especially coming against (Wheeler) as they’re becoming our rivals now.”
Friday’s game marked the first full contest between the two GSSC teams after three failed attempts earlier in the season. Tuesday’s game will be continued later this month and the teams appear to be on a collision course to meet in the postseason.
“We know now that we can beat Wheeler,” Balkema said. “This was a big win for us and this gives us the confidence that we need to be able to get in a zone.”