Annika Hildebrand goes deep, leads Spartans to next round
May 27, 2014
By Neil Pierson
Annika Hildebrand isn’t known as a power hitter, but she picked a very good time to collect her first home run as a high-school player.
The Skyline High School third baseman clobbered a three-run homer over the center-field fence, and those runs proved to be the difference as the Spartans held off the Issaquah Eagles, 7-6, in a loser-out game at the Class 4A KingCo Conference fastpitch tournament May 20 at Inglemoor High School in Kenmore.
In the bottom of the third inning, Skyline (15-7) took a 4-3 lead on Natalie King’s RBI single. Hildebrand then stepped to the plate and drilled a pitch from Issaquah’s Kylie Bevell, making it 7-3 in the blink of an eye.
“I had two strikes on me, so I just hit whatever I had to,” Hildebrand said, noting that she didn’t think the ball was leaving the park. “It was the first time I’ve jogged around the bases.”
Skyline and Issaquah (12-10) split their two regular-season meetings, and the Eagles weren’t about to go quietly. Coach Ron Hatlen removed Bevell in favor of Winter Ridgeway, and the junior proceeded to hold the Spartans scoreless over the final three innings, striking out eight of the 11 hitters she faced.
In hindsight, Hatlen said, he might have started Ridgeway, but she’d thrown 170 pitches a day earlier in a nine-inning win over Bothell.
“She wanted in there, and all she did was what Winter has done for us all year,” Hatlen said. “She led the league in strikeouts, innings pitched. She’s matured. She used to get way down when stuff happened. Now, she just lets it bounce off of her.”
Issaquah trimmed its deficit to two in the fourth inning as leadoff hitter Jennifer Morse singled and Sydney Schultz followed with a two-run homer off Skyline’s Caroline Bowman.
Skyline’s lead remained 7-5 until the seventh, but Ridgeway dropped an infield hit in front of shortstop Lauren Lo to score Justi Johnson. With two outs and the tying run at third base, Bowman coaxed a game-ending ground ball from Jessica DeFelice.
Bowman was battered a bit, giving up 12 hits, but struck out seven and only walked one.
“Not my best outing, but we got done what we needed to,” the freshman said. “Defense was huge — they backed me up every play. It’s nice knowing they have my back.”
Issaquah set the tone in the top of the first inning, getting three runs on four hits, including run-scoring singles from Amelia Cunningham and Ridgeway.
The lead didn’t last long, though, as Skyline scored three in the bottom of the first. Madisen Camp-Chimenti’s two-out, two-run single was the key blow.
Skyline’s successful season is due in large part to the quick maturity of its nine freshmen. Hildebrand, a sophomore, noted that many of the girls have basically grown up together, playing select softball with and against each other.
The Spartans have likely surprised a lot of opponents who were overlooking them.
“It’s so exciting, because coming in with the nine freshmen and not having won any playoff games, no one really expects anything from us, so it’s nice to prove them wrong,” Bowman said.
“We don’t crack under pressure — we do pretty well,” Hildebrand added.
While Issaquah season’s ended short of the program’s first state-tournament berth since 2008, the Eagles made big strides, increasing their win total from six to 12. And Hatlen loses only two seniors — DeFelice and captain Bailey Englin — to graduation.
“They just never quit, and at the beginning of the year, they would have,” Hatlen said of their gritty effort against Skyline. “They’ve really matured as a team. They make a mistake and they let it go. This entire team, one through 16, people were cheering and no one got down. They just thought they were going to get it back.”