Highland captures Section 9 softball crown
NEW PALTZ – With several players shifting positions and six freshmen up on the varsity, Highland High School softball coach Mike Milliman figured it would take time for his team to come together this season, saying “I knew the start to the season would be rough.”
The flip side to that, of course, is the presumption that by this point in the spring a team will be clicking perfectly.
And Highland is.
The Huskies used the pitching of Carly Bilchak and Shannon Ward, along with some timely hitting, to record a 4-1 win over James I. O’Neill on Sunday to capture the Section 9 Class B championship at SUNY New Paltz.
Highland will now head to one of four ‘super regionals’ in New York State when it plays Valhalla on Tuesday at neutral Rhinebeck High School. The winner of that game takes on the winner of the Section 8 vs. Section 11 contest for the right to head to the Final Four.
It was Highland’s second sectional title in three years.
“It feels incredible,” Bilchak said. “Nobody knew what to expect early on, but we really became a close, close team and I think that went a long way.”
Said Milliman: “These kids are fun, they’re fun to be around, and they like each other. They’re extraordinarily close.”
Bilchak pitched 5 2/3 innings of two-hit ball before giving up a run that sliced Highland’s early 2-0 lead in half. But the lefty Ward came on and got the last five outs.
“Carly was on it and when she started struggling and having a little problem with the footing, I made the change,” Milliman said. “Shannon, there’s not much of a dropoff there.”
“I’ve pitched a lot this year so it was nothing new to come in,” said Ward, who has thrown about 55 innings this year. “I was definitely nervous coming in but I was ready. Coach told me I could do it and that’s the words I like to hear.”
Kelly Panek gave Highland a 1-0 lead with an RBI single in the third, and Bilchak made it 2-0 with a sacrifice fly in the fourth. After O’Neill cut it to 2-1, the Huskies scored two huge runs in the bottom of the sixth inning on an RBI single from McKenna Wood and a sac fly by Ward.
“Gigantic,” Milliman said of those two runs. “It takes so much pressure off.”