SHOCKED: Shawe’s Rachel Muessel (foreground) looks on in disbelief after being tagged out by Rising Sun’s Brenna Keith while trying to steal second in the third inning. The play ended up costing Shawe a run when Tori Valkovci tripled with no one on base in the Hilltoppers’ 7-3 loss to the Shiners in their sectional opener. (Staff photo by Mark Campbell)
SHOCKED: Shawe’s Rachel Muessel (foreground) looks on in disbelief after being tagged out by Rising Sun’s Brenna Keith while trying to steal second in the third inning. The play ended up costing Shawe a run when Tori Valkovci tripled with no one on base in the Hilltoppers’ 7-3 loss to the Shiners in their sectional opener. (Staff photo by Mark Campbell)
OSGOOD - For five innings of Monday's IHSAA Class A softball sectional opener, Shawe Memorial played exactly like a defending sectional champ should play.

The Hilltoppers, leading 1-0 through the top of the fifth, were systematically shutting down a Rising Sun squad that the Hilltoppers had rallied to beat in the 2009 championship game before losing to twice during the 2010 regular season.

The Shiners finally broke through in the bottom of the fifth with a two-out, two-run rally that turned the tables on the Hilltoppers. Rising Sun then tacked on five more runs in the sixth and weathered a two-run Shawe rally in the seventh to end the Hilltoppers' tenure as sectional champs 7-3 at Jac-Cen-Del High School in Osgood.

"We played five innings of the greatest softball we've played all year - the best we've played since last year's sectional," Shawe coach Gary VanWye said.

In the end, Shawe's biggest undoing was an inability to get out of one big inning. But for a team that loses only two seniors, growing pains have been part of business as usual throughout the 2010 season.

"The last week of the season we played two games against South Ripley and Switzerland County just like this game tonight," VanWye said. "We cruised along for five innings looking good and then an error or a inexperienced play jumps up and bites us. Softball is a game where errors are unforgiving."

Early on the Hilltoppers were making every big play while bending but not breaking to Rising Sun. Junior ace Tori Valkovci cruised through the first four innings twirling a one-hitter against the hard-hitting Shiners while stranding a Rising Sun runner in the first, two in the third and three in the fourth.

Meanwhile, Shawe was rapping out six hits over the same span including three in the top of the second when the Hilltoppers drew first blood as Hana Roberts and Kaylee Mingione rapped back-to-back singles to start the inning and Ashley Josephsen tagged an RBI single just beyond the reach of Shiners shortstop Brenna Keith for a 1-0 lead.

But the Shiners softened the blow by gunning down Mingione trying to take third and then got Josephsen on a freak play when the Shawe sophomore was struck in the legs by the ball on Olivia Gilpin's grounder to the gap between first and second.

Shawe threatened again in the third but was once again denied by hard-luck and good Shiner defense. Rachel Muessel smacked a one-out single, but then got thrown out trying to steal second. That came back to haunt Shawe when Valkovci blistered a grounder down the third base line that she legged out for a triple before being stranded there by Olivia Daugherty's ground out to second.

Shawe's defense clamped down on the Shiners in the bottom of the third to erase a pair of Valkovci walks and an error by Muessel at third to strand three Shiners and preserve the 1-0 lead.

Shawe managed a single by Jalynn Copeland in the fourth and a single by Muessel in the fifth while setting the Shiners down in order in between.

A bunt single by the Shiners' Brittany Aldred and a steal - Rising Sun was running all night - put the game-tying run in scoring position in the bottom of the fifth before Valkovci got Kelsey Baille to fly out to center and Keith to ground out to second. Aldred advanced to third on the play but Shawe was once again just a routine play away from dodging another bullet.

But unlike the earlier threats, Rising Sun finally cashed in with an RBI double to right-center by Kayla Kelly followed by an RBI double just beyond the reach of Mingione in right field to take the lead 2-1 lead before Valkovci fanned Kelci Lange for the third out.

Shawe tried to answer with back-to-back singles by Daugherty and Roberts in the top of the sixth but a grounder to second, a pop-up to second and a fly to right field left both runners stranded.

Rising Sun's offense then broke through in the bottom of the inning thanks to leadoff single by Kennedy Oser and a series of bunts that seemed to finally rattle the Shawe defense. By the time the rally was over, the Shiners had plated five runs on five hits and an error with only one ball making it out of the infield.

Shawe went out like a champion in the top of the seventh by answering the big Shiner inning with two runs on a rally that included Gilpin reaching on a throwing error, Muessel bouncing a single up the middle, Valkovci walking to load the bases and Roberts tagging a two-out, two-run single to left before Mingione made the third out.

"For six innings I was so proud of the girls both offensively and defensively," VanWye said. "They almost go to the point to where they wanted to quit in that sixth, but they came back and finished strong."

That, and the fact that Shawe loses only Muessel and Mariah Keith to graduation, leaves plenty for the Hilltoppers to build on for next season. VanWye said the project will continue over the summer with hopes that his seven juniors can return the favor to Rising Sun this time next spring when they are seniors.

Shawe closes out the season with an 8-14 record. Rising Sun - now the tourney favorite - moves on to play Oldenburg Academy in the sectional semifinals on Wednesday.