GRANDVILLE — Hart dominated the first two and a half innings of Saturday’s regional semifinal game against North Muskegon, but the Norse made things happen after that, and they rallied to defeat the Pirates in six innings by mercy rule, 13-3.
Hart scored once in each of its first three turns at bat, and Pirate pitcher Finley Kistler didn’t allow a hit through her first two innings of work. However, in the bottom of the third, North Muskegon took advantage of two walks and two hits to get three runs across to tie it, and in the fourth, things got away from Hart. The Pirates committed three errors in that inning and the Norse made them pay with five runs.
“They got a little momentum and we made a couple of mistakes and they cashed in on them,” Hart coach Rocky Smith said. “Unfortunately, in the first three innings, we had a lot of baserunners on and we just didn’t get that key hit. We scored one run in each of the first three innings, but we couldn’t get that extra hit to break that game wide open.”
Indeed, the Pirates made North Muskegon pitcher Madison Balon’s life miserable in the first three innings, drawing six walks, including a bases-loaded walk by Kloe Klotz that opened the scoring in the first. Smith estimated that Balon had gone over 100 pitches in the first three innings alone. However, Balon repeatedly limited the damage and kept Hart from getting a big knock that would’ve truly put the Pirates in command. The Pirates got four hits in the first three frames, but only one of them got past the infield.
Balon wasn’t the only pitcher battling the walks issue, either, as Finley Kistler walked eight in four-plus innings. Part of the issue was a tight strike zone, but it was equally tight for both hurlers.
However, pair those walks with errors and a dangerous Norse lineup, and it’s a recipe for trouble. Emma Houseman drove in two runs in the fourth on a single, and Baila Lang ripped a double later in the inning that scored another run. The Pirates seemed to get in their own heads a bit as the frame went along, and North Muskegon scored three of its five runs in the inning with two outs.
“I think Finley battled there,” Smith said. “She was pretty sore by the end of it. It was a lot of heart working through that. She was really giving it all for her teammates.
“One mistake led to another, and unfortunately that pressure built up and got on them a little bit. It really opened it up.”
Freshman Gabby Quijas came in for Kistler in the fifth, facing runners at second and third with no out, and was able to get out of it with a strikeout and a nifty double play started by Rylee Noggle at shortstop. However, the Norse caught fire again in the sixth and scored the three runs needed to win by mercy rule.
Skylar Smith had an RBI infield single in the game, and Morgan Marvin also had an RBI single.
Smith and Marvin are among the many juniors who provided the core of the squad, and after the seniors — including Noggle, Myryssa Hopkins and Cassidy Copenhaver — were thanked for what they’ve done, attention turned to those soon-to-be seniors. It’ll be on their shoulders to lead Hart to the next step as a program.
“For the juniors, let this burn in them a little bit for the off-season,” Smith said. “There’s a lot of work to be done yet. There’s a lot of time between now and then. They have an opportunity to get better so that next year, we don’t have this feeling.”