Rock Hill vs. Heritage

Prosper Rock Hill senior Taylor Hagen pitched four shutout innings to close out Thursday's 4-2 victory over Frisco Heritage in the regional quarterfinals.

PROSPER — As the Frisco Heritage softball team attempted one final rally in the seventh inning of Thursday's one-game regional quarterfinal playoff, Prosper Rock Hill took a moment to huddle up near the pitcher's circle.

At the time, the Lady Blue Hawks had recorded just one out sandwiched in between a lead-off double by Heritage senior Sarah Hagan and a single from junior Kailey Sweezey, putting the tying runs on base for the once-beaten Lady Coyotes.

The message from Rock Hill head coach Leigh Anne Budd was simple.

"There's a lot ballgame left and we just had to play Rock Hill softball like we know how," she said.

The Lady Blue Hawks answered the call. Heritage lined out to senior Katerina Luna at first base and senior Taylor Hagen notched the third and final out on a strikeout to send Rock Hill back to the regional semifinals following a 4-2 victory over the No. 2-ranked Lady Coyotes on Thursday at Prosper High School.

"We built a lot of confidence and pressure is a privilege," Budd said. "Hats off to Heritage. That's a great team that's so well-coached. This was a lot of fun."

The loss was just the second of the season for Heritage (27-2), which went unbeaten in 9-5A and entered Thursday's third-round, winner-take-all showdown between district champions riding a 21-game winning streak.

The early returns were promising for Heritage, which struck for two runs in the bottom of the first inning to build a 2-1 lead. Senior Elyse Leclair got the Lady Coyotes on the board with an RBI double to right field and later came around to score following a Rock Hill (29-8) error to nudge Heritage in front.

Those marked the first runs allowed by the Lady Blue Hawks since April 14 against Denison. Rock Hill had logged six consecutive shutout wins since and rediscovered that form following a rocky start on Thursday.

The Lady Blue Hawks held Heritage off the scoreboard for the rest of the ballgame, closing with six consecutive scoreless innings and surrendering just three hits over that stretch.

"We just trust our training," Budd said. "We're here for a reason and it's because of the work we've done and the things we've achieved -- from Veronica Cully making a huge catch in center field in the second inning to Katerina making that great play at first near the end."

Heritage, a stout defensive group with one of the top pitchers in the area in junior Jensin Hall, had success of its own in limiting Rock Hill to just four hits on the night. But half of those hits came in the top of the sixth inning with junior Jolie Malan and freshman Ella Berlage opening the frame with back-to-back doubles. Berlage's hit snuck just inside the third-base line to score Malan and put the Lady Blue Hawks ahead, 3-2.

"I think it put a little wind in our sails, but our dugout was on fire all night," Budd said. "It just brought a lot of confidence to the younger kids. I knew they could do it."

Three batters later, sophomore Camila Spriggs lined a pitch off the glove of Hall, which allowed Berlage to score from third base and double the lead to 4-2.

Rock Hill left the rest to Hagen, who pitched the final four innings of Thursday's ballgame following three frames for senior Grace Berlage. Between the two pitchers, the Lady Blue Hawks surrendered just one earned run on six hits with seven strikeouts and no walks issued.

"They're both locked in right now and I'm super proud of them," Budd said.

Hall went the distance for Heritage, allowing four runs on four hits alongside seven strikeouts and five walks. Senior Nadya Quezada paced the Lady Coyotes' offense with two hits, including a double to the left-center gap to open the bottom of the fourth inning.

Malan tallied a two-hit night for Rock Hill, while Ella Berlage accounted for two RBIs with one coming on a first-inning fielder's choice that scored Malan for a 1-0 lead.

Thursday's win marked the program's second straight run to the regional semifinals in as many years of varsity competition. Rock Hill meets either Forney or Hallsville in the next round at a time and place to be determined.

"It's a testament to their hard work. No one sees what goes on behind the scenes and just the results," Budd said. "It's a group that's hungry and has something to prove. They just want to do better last year. They want to keep going at a higher level."

For continued news and coverage on the local sports scene, follow Matt Welch on Twitter. Email him with sports story suggestions at mwelch@starlocalmedia.com.

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