NEW PALESTINE — As her teammates slugged a state-leading 26 home runs this spring, Casey Lehman remained patient.
One of only three players in the New Palestine softball varsity lineup without a homer heading into a matchup against No. 12-ranked Greenfield-Central on Thursday, Lehman took solace in her .340 batting average, six doubles and .982 fielding percentage as the No. 7-ranked Dragons’ starting catcher.
“Daily,” Lehman said with a laugh, when asked how often she wondered when her first home run would materialize. “I knew my day would come. I wasn’t too worried.”
Lehman’s third-inning, two-run homer off the top of the left-field fence gave the Dragons a 2-0 lead on the way to a 12-0, five-inning victory against the Cougars.
“I tried to (keep a straight face) around the bases, but I was smiling,” said Lehman, shortly after being awarded the game ball by head coach Ed Marcum.
Lehman added a RBI single in New Palestine’s 10-run fourth inning, which included Issy Hoyt’s seventh home run of the season, a two-RBI single by Brittany Duncan, a pair of Adie Lorsung doubles and two singles by Mary Crumlin.
The New Palestine outburst chased the conference’s leader in ERA and strikeouts from the mound. Greenfield-Central junior Darcie Huber was relieved by Makayla Durick with one out in the fourth and six runs on the board. Huber entered the contest with a 0.93 ERA, 116 strikeouts in 68 innings and a perfect 11-0 record.
“I thought we did a pretty good job of laying off the rise ball,” Marcum said. “We battled the close pitches, and that’s kind of the key for us.
“Darcie had great stuff. I thought the first couple of innings, we made her throw a lot of pitches in this heat. That’s what I was telling my players: ‘Keep working her.’”
Huber retired six straight Dragons to start the game, while the Cougars’ offense threatened in the early going off New Palestine starter Kaylin McMurray (11-1), who earned the shutout.
The leadoff hitters for the Cougars in the first and second innings reached base and were stranded, with the Dragons picking off a runner at second base to complete a double play in the second frame. In the third inning, a Greenfield-Central hitter reached on a two-out error and advanced to second on a Morganne Denny single. Huber followed with a line drive to left field, but the Dragons’ Madison Whitaker threw out the Cougars’ runner at the plate to end the inning and another scoring threat by Greenfield-Central (15-3, 3-2 Hoosier Heritage Conference).
“Running the bases like 5-year-olds,” said Greenfield-Central coach Jason Stewart, noting what upset him most about the drubbing. “Heading into the bottom of the fourth inning, I think we have six or seven hits to their two. And we just blow our feet off.
“You can’t give them outs.”
The defeat was costly to the Cougars’ conference title hopes. With two losses, they must beat league leader Pendleton Heights (11-5 overall, 3-0 HHC) on Tuesday at Greenfield-Central, then hope the Arabians drop at least one more conference game this season.
For the Dragons (15-3, 3-2 HHC), they appear to be all the way out of the mini-slump that was marked by a recent three-game losing streak (which included a loss to Pendleton Heights). New Palestine has walloped Rushville 10-2, Cathedral 13-2 and the Cougars since the skid.
As was the case in the wins against Rushville and Cathedral, the Dragons’ lineup was consistent all the way through the order Thursday. In addition to Lehman’s 2-for-3 day, Crumlin went 3-for-3 and Whitaker added a run-producing single.
Notes: The game was dedicated to the memory of Brayton Baker and Andrew Hall, student-athletes for New Palestine and Greenfield-Central who passed away while in high school. Baker died May 2, 2012. Hall died March 15 of this year. Baker’s No. 51 (for the football team) and Hall’s No. 35 (baseball) were inscribed in the infield. … Of the college commits in action Thursday, New Palestine’s Lorsung (Indiana State), Hoyt (Purdue), Duncan (Franklin), Ashley Prange (Ohio State) and Abby O’Connor (Marian) have made their selections, and Huber is headed to Ball State in 2016.