ZooTown All-Stars third baseman Kayla Hickethier wasn't enjoying sitting on the bench Friday. After her team split its opening pair of games in the Senior League Softball West Regional, she felt they needed her offense and defense, so she tested out her injured knee.
“I went home after the games and went to a softball field by my house,” Hickethier said. “I had my dad hit me some ground balls, and I ran the bases and starting hitting. Just tried getting back into it and seeing if I could tolerate the pain or not.”
She provided the offense with pop and played error-free third base Saturday while wearing a brace on her right knee, but ZooTown finished the day 2-1 after dropping a 2-1 heartbreaker to Oregon in extra innings.
ZooTown sits at 3-2 heading into the final day of pool play after beating Arizona 11-4 and Nevada 15-0 to open Saturday. It looks positioned to make the knockout round as one of the top six teams out of nine but may have to play in a Monday quarterfinal as a third through sixth seed instead of automatically making it to Tuesday’s semifinals as one of top two teams.
While Hickethier's knee hurts, she said she expects to keep playing.
“Like on a scale of 1 to 10, it’s like a 20,” Hickethier joked about her knee before adding, “It hurts a lot. My knee gave out when I was running to first (base), and I just face planted. It gives out a lot.”
ZooTown’s offense came to life Saturday and scored 26 combined runs against Arizona and Nevada, but Oregon’s pitchers presented a challenge. Starter Zackayla Stovall and reliever Janell Kilborn held the resurgent offense to two hits and two walks. ZooTown also got one runner aboard on a hit by pitch and one on a fielding error.
“Those were probably the best pitchers we’ve seen so far in the tournament,” said ZooTown first baseman Taylor Brinkman, who drove in pinch runner Hellie Badaruddin with an RBI single in the fourth to put ZooTown up 1-0. “They’re some of the fastest and probably the most consistent in the tournament. They’re the only ones with a screwball, which we haven’t seen. I think that got to us.”
Oregon’s Alana Callas drove in the winning run when she singled to right field in the bottom of the eighth inning. Kate Shipley’s throw from short right field sailed over the head of catcher Jalen Cooper, allowing Shawna Mora, who moved to third on the single, to score.
ZooTown had a prime chance to score in the top of the eighth but stranded Taylor Leistiko at third base. Kayla Hickethier flew out to shallow center for the second out, and although the throw home bounced over the catcher, Leistiko hadn't tagged. The inning ended when first baseman Kendra Curry fielded a bouncer over her head with an outstretched arm and stepped on first.
“It was very much a game of inches,” manager Dennis Staves said. “We had our chances. We just didn’t get a base hit when we needed it.”
ZooTown pitcher Amber Hickethier allowed two runs on seven hits and two walks over eight innings. Oregon got to her in the fifth inning, when MacKinzee O’Neal’s two-out double to center field drove in Jacey Armstrong, who drew a leadoff walk after being down 0-2 in the count.
ZooTown beat Arizona 11-4 in its first game of the day. A six-run second inning blew open the game.
Kayla Hickethier had three hits and two RBIs in her first game of the tournament.
Amber Hickethier threw a complete-game eight hitter and added two RBIs.
Shaina Allen paced ZooTown with four hits, and Kate Goodman had a team-high three RBIs.
In their middle game of the day, ZooTown shut out Nevada 15-0 with 24 hits in five innings.
Brinkman and Kate Shipley had four hits and three RBIs apiece.
Brinkman got the win in the circle, allowing two hits.
The Montana All-Stars out of Billings improved to 3-2 with a 12-8 win over Arizona and a 21-0 win against Nevada.