By Pete Temple, Express Sports Editor
Two strong pitching performances by senior Erin Hosch helped propel the Monticello softball team to victory in its first two Class 3A regional tournament games.
The Panthers played host to Oelwein to open the tournament July 9, and rolled to a 14-2, five-inning quarterfinal win.
Then, Monticello survived an early threat, Hosch fired a one-hitter with 15 strikeouts, and the Panthers scored a 4-0 semifinal triumph over Independence July 12, also in Monticello.
Those wins pushed Monticello into the regional finals for the second time in the past three seasons.
Monticello scored in four of five innings, and blew past Oelwein in a regional quarterfinal game July 9 in Monticello.
It was a big night for sophomore first baseman Kori Bohlken, who went 2-for-2 with a two-run homer, a double and five runs batted in.
Erin Hosch also had a strong performance, pitching a three-hitter for the win, and helping her cause with a solo home run to lead off the third inning. Hosch allowed two runs in the first inning, but then went on a streak of retiring 12 straight batters before giving up a two-out single in the fifth. The senior struck out five.
As a result of a coin flip, the Panthers batted first, and struck quickly with four runs, including bases loaded walks to Bohlken and Hosch. Andrea Bone was hit by a pitch to force another run home.
“They were definitely ready to go,” Monticello coach Tiffany Rave said. “The girls really made a statement.”
The Panthers scored twice more in the second, once in the third on Hosch’s homer, four times in the fourth and three times in the fifth.
Monticello looked to be in trouble at the beginning of the July 12 semifinal game against Independence. A walk and an error enabled the Mustangs to put runners on first and third with nobody out in the top of the first inning, with a big chance to gain early momentum.
Pitcher Erin Hosch had other ideas. She struck out the next three batters swinging. She then struck out the side again in the second inning, and opened the third inning with another strikeout, giving her seven in a row.
“This time of year, it’s all about momentum,” Rave said. “Getting out of that (first inning) jam was such a momentum swing.”
Hosch said, “We always say, ‘Let’s go out and make a statement. Visitor or home, we’re going to score one or we’re going to go strike some out.’ It’s a momentum thing.”
The Panthers also went to work offensively. In the bottom of the second inning, Kori Bohlken walked and later went to second and then to third on a pair of passed balls.
Hannah Thompson then hit a two-out double over the left fielder’s head, and the Panthers took a 1-0 lead.
Monticello scored its final three runs in the third. Lael Lubben singled, went to second on a passed ball and scored on a single to center by Alison Kraus. Bohlken followed with a double to drive Kraus home, and Bohlken later scored on a passed ball.
Hosch continued to mow down the Mustangs the rest of the way. She allowed a leadoff double in the top of the fourth inning, but that was the only Independence hit. An error gave the Mustangs runners on first and third with two out, but Hosch struck out the last batter to end that threat. Fittingly, she also struck out the final three batters of the game.
“It was one of the best games I’ve seen her pitch,” Rave said. “She was just in a zone. Independence is a solid hitting team, but Erin just shut them down.
Sonya McCormick went 2-for-4 with a double in the game.