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Vikings eke out win; ace fans 15

To take on Archers in sectional final

This was not the senior spring Erin Rethlake imagined, with a concussion stealing 3 1/2 weeks from her final turn as Huntington North softball’s golden arm in the pitcher’s circle.

So she didn’t exactly hate giving someone else a headache for a change.

That someone was once-beaten Jay County, and for seven innings Tuesday the Patriots’ Larissa Boles and the Vikings’ ace took turns abusing the letter “K” before an aggressive piece of baserunning gave Rethlake all the opening she needed. The Vikings scored the game’s only run in the fifth, and Rethlake made it stand up, striking out 15 batters in a three-hit, 1-0 victory in the Homestead Sectional semifinals.

The Vikings will face South Side in the championship Thursday, after the Archers eliminated Wayne 9-8 in the other semifinal. The Archers sent eight batters to the plate and scored two runs in the bottom of the sixth to snap a 7-run tie. Emily Zajac drew a leadoff walk and scored on a fielding error, and Leeanna Washington scored the other run on a bases-loaded walk.

Rethlake, meanwhile, found some retribution in a season that began poorly and got worse with the concussion – until, that is, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

“I wasn’t playing like myself at all,” said Rethlake, who’s headed for Kentucky in the fall. “I’d been pressing too much and trying to do too much at once. So, finally, with (the concussion), I kind of had some time to regroup and figure things out. So when I came back I just came back stronger.”

That was obvious Tuesday. Changing speeds and moving her pitches around the strike zone to keep Jay County off balance, she fanned the first five batters she faced, then gave up three straight singles that would have resulted in the game’s first run were it not for a critical baserunning error by Jay County’s Gabby Hart.

On a soft, looping liner to shallow left field, Hart tried to go from first to third as Katlin Petro scored. But she was extinguished at third for the final out of the inning, wiping out the erstwhile run.

Thus reprieved, Huntington North turned its own aggression on the basepaths into a run, as shortstop Katie Aker bobbled a sharp grounder, then threw late to the plate as Huntington North coach Paris Seibold waved Alexa Hill around from second.

“It was one of those kind of plays where you think, ‘She’s got a chance,’ ” Seibold said. “We’re aggressive on the bases, and sometimes that pays off. I had her going as soon as she came around. I thought it was worth a try. A good pitcher like (Boles), you’ve got to push the run.”

After that, Rethlake did the rest, retiring the last nine batters she faced and striking out eight of them. Boles, meanwhile, struck out 11 and allowed just four hits in her second straight outing.

“Yeah, I think it’s always kind of that way,” Rethlake said. “My team did what they needed to do, and then it’s my job to finish the rest.”

bensmith@jg.net

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