IMPERIAL — Lauren Nichols didn't need a green light.
Or approval from her third base coach.
The Hillsboro High sophomore infielder simply used her speed and baserunning acumen to get the job done.
Nichols zipped home to score on a short sacrifice fly to kick-start the Hawks to a 4-1 win over Windsor on Monday in a Jefferson County Conference showdown in downtown Imperial.
Hillsboro (20-5, 5-0) won its ninth successive game and all but clinched the league crown with the nail-biting win. It must beat Herculaneum on Tuesday to officially claim the championship.
Windsor (15-6, 5-1) entered the game having won 12 of its previous 13 contests.
The battle of the lone unbeaten teams in the league lived up to its billing. The high-quality event featured several eye-popping web gems.
But the biggest play of the contest proved to be Nichols' mad dash to the plate.
She broke a 1-1 tie by zipping home from third in the fifth inning.
"I just told her to tag and she did the rest," said Hillsboro coach Kevin Lucas, who was in the third-base coaching box. "She's probably one of our best athletes and a real aggressive player. It's a gutsy play, but we like to do it because it catches teams off guard."
Windsor second baseman Riley Siegel made a nifty running catch of a foul pop off the bat of Hailey Genge just behind first base in foul territory. Siegel's momentum carried her deeper into foul territory and Nichols saw her chance.
"I figured that she wouldn't be ready to make the throw, so I just took off," Nichols said.
Nichols, whose sister Emma is a left-handed pitcher at Mizzou, scored standing up to give her team the lead for good.
"(Nichols) was smart enough to do it," Windsor coach Wayne Montgomery said. "(Siegel) was running so hard, she had to stop, turn and throw. That was just good smart, baserunning."
Genge, who also had two singles, drove in her 17th run of the season.
"I didn't think it was far enough out there," Genge said. "That's just the way (Nichols) is, good at running the bases."
Nichols team-leading 23rd run of the season was more than enough for senior pitcher Elly Eckrich, who allowed just six hits. She struck out eight and walked one in improving 13-1 with an 0.61 ERA.
"My rise and curve were working well," Eckrich said. "This is definitely one of my better appearances."
Eckrich outdueled Windsor pitcher Riley Fendler, who also threw well.
The Hawks jumped in front on a two-out run-producing single by Eckrich in the third inning. Bailey Scallet doubled to start the rally. They added two more runs in the seventh. Kaylee Hilton, who reached base four times, triggered the outburst with a run-scoring double.
Logan Veselske had three hits for the Owls including a game-tying, run-producing hit in the fourth.
"We were right there with them the whole game," Montgomery said. "We just needed some timely hitting."
Hillsboro, which finished fourth in the state in 2018, has outscored its opponents 111-9 during the nine-game blitz.
"The girls have bought in to what we're trying to do," Lucas said. "They've been having some fun, having some good approaches at the plate."
The Hawks beefed up their schedule with an eye on the post-season. They will face Summit (22-2) on Wednesday and Marquette (20-7) on Thursday.
Hillsboro and Windsor will likely meet again in the semifinal round of the Class 4, District 1 Tournament next week in Festus.
"We're pretty happy with the way we're playing right now," Genge said.