AMBOY – Bailee Highbarger celebrated her 18th birthday on Wednesday the best way she knew how – by shutting down an opposing lineup.
The Amboy ace took a perfect game into the seventh inning of a 1A Amboy Regional semifinal against Indian Creek, helping the Clippers to a 2-1 victory.
Amboy (12-7) will face Ottawa Marquette on Friday for the regional title.
Marquette’s Makenna Tkach threw a five-inning no-hitter on Tuesday against Hinckley-Big Rock in the other regional semifinal, and Highbarger nearly matched her a day later with a seven-inning performance.
She retired the first 18 Timberwolves she faced before committing a throwing error to start the seventh, spoiling her bid for a perfect game. Jodie Penman spoiled the no-hit bid with a two-out double into right-center to score Jade Milostan, but Highbarger got Amelia Konen to ground out to finish the Clippers’ victory.
Amboy beat Indian Creek 4-0 and 7-3 in a road doubleheader back on April 6, with Highbarger tossing a no-hitter in the first game. She recorded 19 strikeouts between the two games, and worked with catcher Alison O’Rourke to develop a simple game plan against the Timberwolves lineup: start down in the zone, and work up throughout the game.
Highbarger (12-6) struck out nine, and finished with 63 strikes to just eight balls.
“We came up with the best way to attack their lineup,” Highbarger said. “Knowing some of the girls from travel ball, I knew what their weaknesses were and capitalized on those. That kept them off-balance.”
Indian Creek (8-14) pitcher Jesika Lowe quite literally matched Higbarger in the circle through three innings. Both pitchers struck out the side in the third inning, had four strikeouts, and had thrown 33 pitches. Lowe threw her first 21 pitches of the game for strikes.
“She pitched her butt off,” Indian Creek coach Jeremy Lowe said. “The last doubleheader we had against them didn’t go so well, so to lose 2-1 against a solid team and pitcher like that, I’m pleased with the result.”
Amboy had just two hits before finally breaking through in the fifth. Dani Hochstatter beat out an infield single to start the inning. Summer Bulfer laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt, but Hochstatter was tagged out in a rundown trying to reach third.
“We were hitting the ball, just right at them,” Amboy coach Kelly Whitman said. “We were confident we would eventually put something together. We got a real nice bunt that we had the runner thrown out on, but I think that sparked us.”
Gabby Jones drew a walk, setting the table for Noelle Jones’ double into left-center to score Bulfer and break the scoreless tie.
“It was an inside fastball,” Noelle Jones said. “I felt like I needed to get the team going, so I kept my head down and drove the ball.”
Highbarger followed with RBI groundout to give herself an insurance run, and promptly struck out the side on 10 pitches in the sixth.
Lowe (7-8) struck out seven and threw 60 strikes to just 11 balls for the Timberwolves, as the game took just 1 hour to complete.
1A Amboy Regional semifinal
Amboy 2, Indian Creek 1
Star of the game: Bailee Highbarger, Amboy, W, 7 IP, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 H, 9 SO, 0 BB, 63 strikes, 8 balls, RBI
Key performers: Noelle Jones, Amboy, 1-for-2, 2B, RBI; Summer Bulfer, Amboy, 1-for-2, R; Jesika Lowe, Indian Creek, L, 6 IP, 2 R, 2 ER, 5 H, 7 SO, 1 BB, 1 HBP, 60 strikes, 11 balls; Jodie Penman, Indian Creek, 1-for-3, 2B, RBI
Up next: 1A Amboy Regional final, Amboy vs. Ottawa Marquette, 4:30 p.m. Friday