After Manhattan High’s softball team scored 34 runs in six innings against Highland Park, MHS head coach Connie Miller stopped Highland Park coach Bill Nicholson outside the field at Frank Anneberg Park to offer a few comforting words.
“Keep fighting the good fight,” Miller told him. “Keep going.”
Nicholson needed the boost after Manhattan’s 18-0 Game 2 win over the Scots on Friday. The Indians plated their season-high run total in just two at-bats, and five of the six outs Highland Park recorded came when Manhattan baserunners left their base before the Scots’ pitcher released the ball.
Miller instructed her runners to leave early on each occasion. She saw no reason to drag out an already difficult afternoon for her coaching counterpart.
“We got in and got out,” Miller said. “We didn’t prolong it; we didn’t run the score up on them. We made it as painless as we could.”
Miller sacrificed her first runner, Kierra Goos, after Goos made it 11-0 with a two-RBI double to left field in the first inning. Two doubles later, Miller signaled Kaitlyn Gregoire to do the same. And Logan Neitzel ended the inning by starting her secondary lead just before Ayanna Reynoson completed her windup.
Gregoire, Takara Kolterman and Reagan Neitzel all finished 3-for-3 during Game 2. Every Indian reached base at least once. In Miller’s eyes, that was enough.
Nicholson didn’t ask Miller to rein in her offense; she said afterward that she never discussed it with him.
She did, however, remember how it felt to lose big. Manhattan finished 5-19 two years ago, and some of its losses looked a lot like Friday’s Game 2 win.
Those memories came flooding back as Miller stood on the opposite side of a lopsided scoreboard. The Scots were outmatched, just like Miller’s Indians used to be.
So Miller sacrificed a few baserunners. She deemed it unnecessary to make Nicholson’s job any harder.
“I’ve been where he’s at,” Miller said. “It’s hard to keep a positive outlook as a coach and as a player. So I respect what he’s doing with his team. He’s doing the best he can with what he has, and that’s all you can really do. It was important to me that I let him know that.”
On Thursday afternoon, Goos removed her new white Louisville Slugger LXT from its box. Twenty-four hours later, she smashed a ball over the left field wall with it.
Goos’s two-run home run broke a 1-1 tie during the Indians’ 16-1 win over Highland Park in Game 1.
Manhattan scored nine runs in the first inning, but none made more noise than the two Goos plated in her first at-bat with her new Slugger.
“It sounds good,” Goos said. “That’s always exciting.”
The Indians ended the excitement early during Game 1, too. They followed their nine-run first inning with a seven-run second. They scored all seven before the Scots recorded an out.Kolterman and Caylee Begnoche each finished 2-for-3 with three RBIs. And like it later did in Game 2, every Indian reached base at least once.
In four games this week, Manhattan scored 56 runs. Three of the four ended in run-rule victories.
Friday’s wins demand context, however: Highland Park is now 0-10 this season. It has allowed 15-plus runs in all 10 losses.
While the Indians’ offense produced at a season-best clip, Miller found it difficult to evaluate her bats against their usual performance.
“We hit the ball when it was hittable,” Miller said. “With games like this, you take those wins and just move on from them.”
The same sentiment rings true for her pitchers, Gregoire and Jaden McGee. Miller liked the way McGee looked throwing three no-hit innings in Game 2; she couldn’t nitpick Gregoire for allowing one hit and one run in three innings during Game 1.
But Highland Park hadn’t scored in two games entering Friday’s doubleheader. They’d scored 15 in eight games. Before McGee and Gregoire stepped into the circle, Miller offered the same instructions.
“I told them to go out there and just throw what was working,” she said. “I don’t think they threw a whole lot of junk. They just stayed solid with the fastball and moved it in and out.”
Perhaps Manhattan can learn more about itself at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, when it will play a doubleheader at Hayden. The Indians will walk onto Hayden’s field with augmented confidence after their outings against the Scots.
Goos’ old bat, a grey Easton Ghost, will be sealed in its own shipping box by then. She’s sending it to Easton’s repair service in hopes that she can salvage the crack in it.
If she can, she has a decision to make: reliable mainstay or shiny power bat?
“I can switch them in between so they last longer,” Goos said. “Or maybe I could sell (the old one).”
Game 1: MHS 16, Highland Park 1
HP 1 0 X X X X X — 1
Manhattan 9 7 X X X X X — 16
WP — Gregoire LP — Reynoson
HR: Manhattan 1 (Goos)
2B: Manhattan 3 (Goos, Gregoire, Caylee Begnoche)
Game 2: MHS 18, Highland Park 0
HP 0 0 X X X X X — 0
Manhattan 13 5 X X X X X — 18
WP — McGee LP — Reynoson
3B: Manhattan 2 (Gregoire, Paige Dupler)
2B: Manhattan 7 (Reagan Neitzel 2, Gregoire 2, Logan Neitzel, Goos, Kolterman)