Hearn puts pain aside, helps Panthers prevail in Class 4A state final softball

Danielle Hearn had to wonder if her senior season was cursed.

Palo Verde’s second baseman suffered a serious leg injury on the first weekend of the season, causing her to miss more than a month.

Then after finally getting back to full health, Hearn twisted her ankle Saturday while warming up for the Panthers’ biggest day of the season.

Pushing aside pain and any curses, Hearn delivered the biggest hit of her career and the knockout punch to archrival Centennial in the Class 4A state final at UNLV’s Eller Media Stadium.

Hearn’s two-run single to right triggered a clinching five-run fifth inning as the Panthers beat the Bulldogs 7-1 to clinch the program’s first state crown.

“I can’t even explain it. It feels amazing,” said Hearn, who missed more than five weeks after needing 19 stitches in her left leg after she was cleated at second base during an opening weekend tournament in St. George, Utah.

“It was really hard (this season). I’m stubborn when I get hurt. I hate sitting, and to be taken out by something I didn’t really have any control over was hard, but it made me a stronger person.”

Her big moment almost never happened, though, after Hearn stumbled during warmups for the Panthers’ first game Saturday, against Bishop Manogue. She sat out after being in the original lineup, but returned to help Palo Verde (33-9) defeat Centennial twice.

“I was like, ‘Great. I’m not going to be able to play my last game as a senior,’ ” said Hearn, who has signed with Western Nebraska. “It was heartbreaking, but I sat out the first game, and I had faith in my team that we would win that first game and I could play the last two.”

That’s exactly what happened. The Panthers topped Manogue 6-1, then beat winners’ bracket champion Centennial 5-4 to force the decisive game.

Palo Verde scored twice in the first inning in the final and clung to a 2-1 lead in the fifth when Melissa McCormick led off with a single, Melissa Lacro reached on a misplayed sacrifice bunt, and Rachel Williams singled to load the bases.

Hearn then looped a single into right field to score McCormick and Lacro.

“(Hearn) has kept her chin up the whole time, helping as much as she could this season,” McCormick said. “It’s about time that she finally gets what she deserves. I’m so proud of her.”

Cheryl Iddings added an RBI single, and freshman Breanna Beatty — who had a great day — made the score 7-1 with a two-run double. Palo Verde had 14 hits in the finale after having 13 in the first game against Centennial.

McCormick, also a senior, took care of the rest, retiring the side in order in the sixth and working around a hit and a walk in the seventh. In three games Saturday, she struck out 17 in 17 innings and allowed 10 hits and one earned run.

“It’s just so Utopian, it’s just unreal,” she said. “It feels like everything in the last four years finally came together.”

For the day, Beatty went 7-for-12 with a grand slam, four runs and seven RBIs. She hit the slam off the scoreboard in the second inning against Manogue, threw out a runner at home from left field in the third and made a tremendous running catch in foul ground in the fourth.

Beatty’s slam gave the Panthers a 4-1 lead, and her throw home to end the third ended Manogue’s last real threat.

In the first title game, the Panthers raced to a 4-0 lead in the third inning, but Centennial (26-14) tied the score with a four-run fifth, highlighted by Mia Acuna’s three-run homer to left.

The Panthers’ Angel Council scored the winning run in the seventh on a bases-loaded wild pitch with two outs.

Palo Verde became only the second Southern Nevada team to win the 4A softball title. Centennial is the other, winning in 2004 and 2009.

The victory was especially satisfying to Panthers coach Kelly Glass, whose team swept seven games against Centennial this season.

“We had to prove to everybody that we could do it,” Glass said. “Even after winning league and regionals, I still don’t think some people believed we could do what we just did. But we were hungry.

“I’m sick of people thinking we’re not good enough. These girls worked their butts off all day and bought into my philosophy. They proved them wrong.”

Contact reporter Bartt Davis at bdavis@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5230.

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