GRIFFITH — Hanover Central's Ally Holtcamp barely had time to think when the ball hit the dirt in the bottom of the seventh inning of Friday's Class 3A Griffith softball sectional final.
Holtcamp stood on third base in a tie game after Wildcats coach Jason Bolden inserted her at second as a pinch runner. The only thought going through the freshman's mind as she broke for home? I have to get there.
The ball ricocheted off the backstop and Holtcamp sprinted down the line, slid and barely beat the tag to give The Times No. 8 Wildcats a 5-4 walk-off win. Holtcamp's Hanover Central teammates rushed out of the dugout to embrace her, all jumping up and down.
“I still can't believe it,” Holtcamp said. “People are hugging me, and I'm like, 'I just did that.'”
Bolden said Holtcamp has started at points this season but that the Wildcats are so deep that players must be prepared to sub in or out. Although Holtcamp's only action had been a brief cameo in the fifth, she was focused and ready when it mattered.
Facing a 4-0 deficit after the first inning, Hanover Central battled back. Junior pitcher Taylor Towry rebounded from a rough start to shut out the Trojans the rest of the way, and Hanover Central scored all five of its runs in the final three frames.
The Wildcats said the game, from beginning to end, summed up their team motto: Hold the rope.
“That's truly what it was today,” Bolden said. “Once we settled down, we started to see better pitches as we got ahead in the count, and that's what really made the biggest difference for us, the fact that we worked the count a little bit more to our favor.”
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Highland's first six batters of the game reached base, highlighted by senior shortstop Jamie Gessler's monster three-run home run to left. The Trojans (15-13) tacked on another run to make it 4-0, but Towry scattered just four hits from then on after adjusting to what Bolden called “a tight zone.”
Trojans pitcher Kiley Elbaor, wearing Bryce Harper-like eye black that ran nearly to the corners of her mouth, dominated much of the game. The senior racked up eight strikeouts, including six straight across the first three innings.
“I couldn't ask for anything better,” Highland coach Jessica Brannagan said. “She pitched her butt off, so I am so proud of her. She put it all on the field.”
The Wildcats broke through in the fifth. Camryn Veteto walked to lead off the inning, and Ashtyn Barnett launched a homer to left to trim Highland's lead to 4-2. Hanover Central loaded the bases with two outs, but Elbaor coaxed a flyout to Morgan Rinkema and then ran to greet her center fielder with a high-5.
Barnett hit a sac fly to drive in Elise Kratkoczki in the sixth before a wild pitch allowed Veteto to tie the game. Priscilla Seniw led off the seventh with a double to deep right-center before Holtcamp took over on the basepaths.
Hanover Central's 19-3-1 record marks a major step forward from last year's 17-12 campaign, and the sectional title is its first since 2015. The Wildcats celebrated on the infield dirt by garnishing their trophy with a fitting accessory: A long, multi-colored rope.
“(This year was) tough, but surreal,” Towry said. “We have made big strides from last year. We sat down at the beginning of this year and discussed what we wanted to change. … I'm absolutely ecstatic for this team.”