NEW PALESTINE — Word spread fast.
Down by 10 runs to Class 4A No. 19 Hamilton Southeastern after the top half of the first inning, the crowd around the New Palestine softball diamond didn’t dwindle.
Instead, it steadily grew, drawing spectators from neighboring events on campus, as the host Dragons’ bats came to life, refusing to surrender Thursday night.
With six different players blasting a state-record six home runs, the 3A No. 3 Dragons chipped away with a pair of six-run innings to complete their historic comeback to win 18-10.
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“Once the junior varsity (softball) people started coming over, the crowd really got into it,” New Palestine junior Madison Whitaker said. “People were coming over to see what was going on. It was really fun.”
After dropping a 9-3 loss to 4A No. 13 Franklin Central on the road the night prior, New Palestine was looking to bounce back, but once again faced an uncharacteristic deficit due to errors.
The Dragons (4-1) were charged with four Wednesday, leading to an 8-1 disadvantage. Against the Royals (1-4), four fielding errors in the first inning turned into eight bases loaded situations and what initially appeared to be an insurmountable 10-0 hole.
“When we came in that first inning, we knew we had a lot to score, but we didn’t give up,” Whitaker said. “We knew we could do it once we got those first three runs.”
Whitaker’s one-out, three-run home run in the bottom of the first set the Dragons in motion.
Nine different players recorded at least one hit for New Palestine, and the lineup connected for 13 extra-base hits total. Seven were doubles, including a pair by Casey Lehman, as the team had 20 hits overall.
“It was so contagious out there. We feed off of each others’ energy,” said New Palestine’s Elisha Barker, who picked up the win after relieving Abby White in the first inning. “Once one person gets a big hit, we all want to do it.”
The bats unloaded in the fourth as Tara Morey laced a double to right-center field with one out. From there, the Dragons caught fire.
Ashley Prange, Lehman and Issy Hoyt drove in four runs on three consecutive home runs to chop HSE’s lead to 10-9. Prange’s shot plated two runs.
The hit parade continued in the bottom of the fifth as New Palestine posted back-to-back six-run innings, highlighted by Barker’s three-run shot over the left-center field fence.
Barker and Whitaker each drove in five runs. Whitaker, who went 3-for-4, had an RBI-double in the fifth and added another with a sacrifice fly in the sixth. Barker was 3-for-4 with a two-run double.
“We needed it a lot. We didn’t play well at all last night (against Franklin Central),” Whitaker said. “All teams go through that, but to come back tonight and from that first inning was huge. It definitely builds up our spirits.”
Mackenzie Jones delivered the final blow in the sixth with a two-run home run over the left-field wall, giving New Palestine its second three-run frame in the game.
Jones was 2-for-4 with three RBIs. Hoyt finished 3-for-4 with two RBIs and Lehman was 3-for-5.
“If we came out of the bottom of the first and we don’t score, then I think it might have been a different situation,” New Palestine head coach Ed Marcum said. “We really stayed the course and kept pushing. Six home runs from six different players is pretty cool.”
The team’s resolve was a result of their makeup and chemistry.
Eight players on the varsity roster have committed to playing college softball with Hoyt and Prange set to continue their careers at Purdue and Ohio State, respectively. A total of 10 could have their futures set by season’s end.
“I’m proud that we came back and stayed with it. The girls really responded well,” Marcum said. “But we have to come out and do a better job of being ready to play. HSE did a great job, put the ball in play and we made some mistakes. The fortunate thing is they had 10 in the first inning, and we had time to come back from it.”
The team’s six home runs also set a school record and helped counter six fielding errors, an area Marcum hopes his team improves upon with each game.
“We’ve been talking about pressure being a privilege, but I don’t like being down 10 runs,” Marcum said. “At the same time, it was awesome to see. I’ve never been part of a game like this.”
New Palestine 18, Hamilton Southeastern 10
WP: Elisha Barker LP: Alexis Macha
HR: Madison Whitaker, Ashley Prange, Casey Lehman, Issy Hoyt, Elisha Barker, Mackenzie Jones (NPHS)
2B: C. Lehman 2, I. Hoyt, M. Whitaker, M. Jones, E. Barker, Tara Morey (NPHS).
RBI: A. Prange 2, C. Lehman, I. Hoyt 2, M. Whitaker 5, M. Jones 3, E. Barker 5 (NPHS).
Notables: A. Prange 2-4, 3 runs; C. Lehman 3-5; I. Hoyt 3-4, 3 runs; M. Whitaker 3-4, 3 runs; M. Jones 2-4, 3 runs; Carly Roberts 2-3; E. Barker 3-4.