Homestead’s aggression leads to regional win over Leo Spartans jump on Lions early to advance to semistate

Homestead senior Katie Lael hit the softball high and foul, toward the fence on the first-base side of home plate. Leo catcher Corey Uetrecht made a great play, hustling to make the catch.

What happened next illustrated the difference in the teams Tuesday in the Class 4A high school regional championship.

Homestead junior Savana Harless was on third. She saw Uetrecht’s hustle, but she also spied something else: No Leo player was covering home.

With Uetrecht’s momentum carrying her away from the plate, Harless sprinted in and Lael had one of the shortest sacrifice fly RBIs in softball history. It was also the fourth run of the first inning in Homestead’s 11-7 win at Homestead, and it set the tone for one team attacking and the other reacting.

“There’s a first time for everything,” Lael said of her unlikely RBI. “What I said to my teammates when I was back in the dugout was, ‘Whatever gets the job done.'”

Harless had the same thought.

“It’s about being more mentally prepared than the person on the other end of the play,” Harless said. “I saw nobody was covering, and nobody was really expecting it. You always have to expect the unexpected.”

Homestead (21-6) moves on to play Hamilton Southeastern in the second game of the Lafayette Harrison Semistate at 1 p.m. Saturday.

Homestead spent Tuesday’s game taking advantage of aggressive hitting, aggressive base-running and an increase-the-pressure style of play. Leo (24-3), which had won three straight regionals, made uncharacteristic physical and mental mistakes. The Lions committed four errors in the first two innings as Homestead staked a 6-1 lead.

“We knew we had to jump on them quick,” Lael said. “That bottom of the first inning we had to jump on them, and it felt great. But we knew we had to keep focused on defense and not relax, and that’s what we did. We kept building on it and building on it.”

Leo beat Homestead 3-0 on March 29, and while that was quite a while ago, Homestead coach Tom Clagg was intent on putting his team into a different frame of mind for the rematch.

“Last time we played them, we took way too many strikes,” Clagg said. “We played a seven-inning game and had zero walks. Our strategy here was to go after the first good pitch. Makenna Hostetler set the tone by hitting the first pitch into centerfield.”

Homestead was able to put the Leo defense on its heels with some small-ball approach, too. The Spartans bunted with one or two strikes on three at-bats in the first two innings and reached on an infield hit or error each time.

Homestead scored three runs in the second inning despite only one hit.

“We just made too many mistakes,” Leo coach Ben Shappell said. “They were hitting the ball well and we made mistakes when they hit the ball. They were putting it in play, but we just didn’t make the plays.”

Leo trimmed the lead to 6-3 on back-to-back doubles by Ashley Miller and Haley Hines in the fourth and an RBI single by Madison Dunning in the fifth.

But Homestead brought 10 batters to the plate in the sixth, scoring five runs. That made it 11-3 and all but ended Leo’s chances.

The Lions pushed hard in the seventh with four straight hits, including run-scoring drives by Alexa Allen and Amanda Hopkins and a double steal that scored Dunning. The Spartans cut the lead in half. But Homestead reliever Emilie Felger was able to get Leo’s talented hitter Abbie Heischman to pop up to second, and Homestead shortstop Katie Felger turned an unassisted double play to end the game.

“We hit the ball when we needed to and took advantage of all our opportunities,” Homestead senior pitcher Madisen Parker said. “I wouldn’t say we expected to score 11 runs, but coming into this game we were really focused on hitting the ball. We knew we had to hit to win.”

Katie Felger was 3-for-4, with an RBI and a run scored, Lauren Selking was 2-for-4 with three RBIs and two runs scored, Parker was 2-for-4 with two runs and Harless was 1-for-3 with two runs and an RBI.

While Leo committed six errors, Homestead was error-free. One of the top defensive plays came when right fielder Rylee Norton caught a fly ball and threw Leo’s Hines out trying to advance to third.

The regional title is the second for Homestead. The Spartans also advanced to semistate in 2015.

“I think we wanted it more,” Harless said, “That definitely helps us get our attitude. It helped us get hyped and really be in this together.”

Leo’s Allen, the all-time Indiana hits leader, went 3-for-4 with two doubles, an RBI and two runs scored in her final game. Miller also had three hits, including a double, for Leo. Senior Makayla Hissong had two hits. Allen, Hissong, Heischman, Hopkins and Morgan Finton (who had a hit and scored twice Tuesday) are the Lions outgoing seniors.

“They’ve done a great job of leading this team,” Shappell said. “They had over 100 wins as that group of seniors, and they did a good job of taking us to places I could only imagine we were going to go to.”