NEW PALESTINE — The idea took on a life of its own that even Ed Marcum didn’t expect.
When the New Palestine head coach handed out an article for his softball players to read this winter, his intention was to spark some offseason discussion. What materialized, however, was a collective motivation.
“I had them go through the article and talk about it. In it, the book by Cassie Reilly-Boccia, 2012 Alabama, was mentioned,” Marcum said. “A lot of the girls went out afterwards and bought it and read it. I borrowed a copy and read it, too.”
Reilly-Boccia’s work “Finished It: A Team’s Journey to Winning It All,” struck a cord with the Dragons, especially senior first baseman Mary Crumlin.
Inspired by the story’s message of values, teamwork and leadership woven within the University of Alabama’s championship softball run, Crumlin contacted Marcum and outlined their own parallel in two words.
If you want to make a big purchase in June, like a state title, you have to “make payments” along the way, Marcum explained.
“I do a different slogan every year, and I had one in mind, but when Mary texted me that from the book, I thought that was something we could really incorporate,” Marcum said. “It really makes sense for what we want to accomplish.
“You have to make payments.”
Team: New Palestine
Coach: Ed Marcum
2016 Record: 24-3
2016 Results: The Dragons tied for the Hoosier Heritage Conference title with a 6-1 record (Yorktown and Shelbyville) and won the program’s 11th sectional title overall. New Palestine lost to eventual Class 3A state champion Lebanon 7-1 at regional.
Key Losses: Issy Hoyt (Purdue), Casey Lehman (Huntington), Brooke Buttler (Hanover), Abbey White (Chattanooga State), Tara Morey.
Key Returnees: Ashley Prange (11), Elisha Barker (12), Mary Crumlin (12), Madison Whitaker (12), Mackenzie Jones (11), Abby Davis (12), Emily O’Conner (10), Carly Roberts (11), Kaylee Kropp (12).
So far, the Dragons have put down a substantial commitment to their new mantra.
Already focused on making up for last May’s 7-1 regional loss to Lebanon, who eventually won the Class 3A state championship, the team is determined to challenge for the crown this spring.
“We always say, forget what happened in the past, but you can’t really do that. You always have that motivation behind you,” New Palestine senior ace Elisha Barker said. “This is a whole new year. It’s our year. We feel like we got this.”
Loaded with talent, once again, the Dragons will rely on their five seniors as they push toward their first potential state title since 2008-09.
Barker returns to the circle after leading the team with 96.2 inning pitched, 64 strikeouts, a 1.52 ERA, and a 16-3 record. As a five-hole hitter, she carried a .365 average with 18 RBI and four home runs.
Outfielder Madison Whitaker, a Wright State recruit, hit .459 last year with 29 RBI and 12 doubles, while middle infielder Abby Davis, who signed with Dayton, posted a .360 average through 17 games last year.
Crumlin, a Marian University recruit, hit .333 as a junior for the Dragons. The first baseman had six doubles and was second on the team with 33 RBI.
“It’s a great group. I’m really looking forward to it. Five seniors this year. All five were starters for me last year,” Marcum said. “So this is a big year for us. We need to come on strong, and I think we will.”
Hoosier Heritage Conference honorable mention Ashley Prange, a junior middle infielder and Ohio State recruit, provides additional support after hitting .371 with 21 RBI and five homers from the leadoff spot in 2016.
Prange’s production could increase with the losses of two-time all-state selection Issy Hoyt (Purdue), who had nine home runs and 42 RBI, and catcher Casey Lehman (Huntington), who hit .516 with 24 RBI.
“Losing our senior class last year, obviously, we lost a lot of great players, but we had so much depth last year that I always thought they could step right in,” Marcum said. “That’s kind of what we we’ve done. With this being my 14th year, we’ve been very fortunate to be able to do that every year.”
This season won’t deviate much from the norm with a strong junior class giving Marcum and his coaching staff flexibility and chances to reward individual effort.
With just 11 players on the varsity team at this point, Marcum intends to move players up and down throughout the year based on performance and team needs.
Where the Dragons have little concern is pitching depth, beginning with Barker. Junior Mackenzie Jones will be second in the rotation after she hit .364 with 12 RBI and was 2-0 with 16 strikeouts and a 0.60 ERA in 23.1 innings last year.
“We’ve got nine pitchers we can use. I have a couple more juniors I really couldn’t really distinguish between, so I didn’t bring them up. We’ll be shuffling some pitchers,” Marcum said. “But Mackenzie will backup Elisha. She’s the same way (as Elisha). Her demeanor doesn’t change when she’s out there.”
Winning remains their goal, including the HHC, which they captured for a third straight year last spring with a 6-1 record. The Dragons tied Yorktown and Shelbyville for the title while finishing the season 24-3.
“You have to make payments along the way,” Marcum said. “Those payments come when you’re getting extra hitting in and extra work in the weight room. You’re making payments to that final product that you want in June. You can’t wait and pay for it in June.”
The Dragons open the season on April 4 at Southport, the first of four consecutive road games in four days after a two-week spring break. New Palestine has a scrimmage scheduled for today at HHC foe Greenfield-Central.
“After we come back, we have one day of practice,” Marcum said. “It’ll be a challenge, but I think it’ll be fun.”