FORTVILLE — My, what a difference a few weeks makes.
Less than a month ago, a young and inexperienced Mt. Vernon softball team hosted Hoosier Heritage Conference foe Pendleton Heights and was obliterated 11-1.
Not three weeks later, a different Marauders bunch showed up to play the Arabians in Tuesday’s Class 4A Mt. Vernon Sectional 9 semifinal.
This group, coming off a first-round bye, was confident, seasoned and ready to challenge Pendleton Heights.
And that’s exactly what they did. For seven innings, they pushed their rivals to the brink, constantly threatening to steal away a game from the favored Arabians.
Unfortunately for the Marauders and their faithful, their valiant effort came up a run short. They fell 3-2 and were eliminated from the state tournament.
“We’ve certainly gotten better, but we’ve always had the talent,” Mt. Vernon coach Veronica Kirby said after the game. “The difference is that confidence and that experience. We have that now. We’re a little cocky now. You have to have that. You need that edge.”
Mt. Vernon starter Sara Pridgen pitched with that edge Tuesday. After the Arabians bombarded her for nine earned runs in the teams’ first matchup, the junior conceded just three runs in the semifinal.
The right-hander scattered eight hits and issued one free pass over seven innings. She struck out only two, instead putting to work a stellar Marauders defense, and retired the final seven batters she faced.
“I struggled early, but I worked my hardest to get through it,” Pridgen said. “I feel like I improved a lot (between Pendleton Heights games).”
With Pridgen (6-7) keeping them close, the Marauders desperately tried to overtake the Arabians. But missed opportunities cost them.
After Morgan Moss’ team-leading fifth home run in the second inning, a bomb launched far past the left-field fence, the Marauders struggled to drive home runs.
In the next five innings, Mt. Vernon stranded left seven runners on base, including four in scoring position.
“We could just never come up with the big hit when we needed a hit,” Kirby said.
Meanwhile, the Arabians seemed to always find a way to come through in the clutch. They delivered three two-out RBI hits between the third and fourth innings to take a 3-1 lead.
The Marauders would get one back in the seventh on a leadoff home run by Karly VanSlyke, but that was all they could muster.
Despite the defeat, Kirby said she was proud of her youthful team’s improvement this season and is excited about a returning cast of core players.
Mt. Vernon loses four seniors to graduation, including Tracy Gordon, MacKenzie Loehr, Caitlin Lindman and Kylie Lyons. Only Lyons and Gordon started for the Marauders on Tuesday night.
“We’re young,” Kirby said. “A lot these girls played their first varsity innings this year. With the way we played tonight, and lot of these girls coming back, it’s very exciting for us.”
Greenfield-Central 11, New Castle 4
Sydney Williams launched a three-run homer in the first inning of the Greenfield-Central’s game against the Trojans, and the No. 8 Cougars never looked back, winning 11-4
Darcie Huber clubbed her second home run of the tournament, a two-run shot in the fifth, to give Greenfield-Central a 6-0 lead.
Huber (18-1) also pitched her second straight complete game. She struck out nine Trojans, while allowing four runs, all unearned.
With the win, Greenfield-Central advances to today’s championship game to take on Pendleton Heights. The Cougars sneaked past the Arabians 2-1 in nine innings in the teams’ May 12 meeting at Greenfield-Central in the regular season.
The winner of their matchup will face the Warren Central Sectional 10 champion. The four teams remaining in that bracket play today, with Lawrence Central taking on No. 12 Roncalli, and Cathedral battling Warren Central.
2A Sectional 41 at Cambridge City Lincoln
Centerville 10, Knightstown 3
Cambridge City Lincoln 1, Union County, 0
Hagerstown 10, Northeastern 4
Eastern Hancock vs. Centerville, 5:30 p.m.
Cambridge City Lincoln vs. Hagerstown, 7 p.m.
Championship, 6 p.m.
4A Sectional 9 at Mt. Vernon
Pendleton Heights 17, Connersville, 0
Greenfield-Central 3, Anderson 1
New Castle 7, Richmond 3
Pendleton Heights 3, Mt. Vernon 2
Greenfield-Central 11 New Castle 3,
Championship: Greenfield-Central vs. Pendleton Heights, 7 p.m.
4A Sectional 13 at Center Grove
Center Grove 4, Greenwood 1
Franklin Central 5, Whiteland 1
Center Grove 3, Franklin Central 2
New Palestine 14, Franklin 2
Championship: New Palestine vs. Center Grove, 6 p.m.