NEW PALESTINE — Blowouts are a fun way to balloon the stat book, but nail-biters are what build mettle. On Monday night, the New Palestine Dragons sharpened their grit.
Caught in a scoreless tie through five innings, the Class 3A Dragons found their will to win, scoring the go-ahead run in the bottom of the sixth to seize their home opener 1-0 against 4A Roncalli.
New Palestine ace pitcher Elisha Barker tossed a complete-game shutout for the win as both she and the fourth-ranked Dragons improved to 3-0.
“These are the games that make you. These are the ones you need to be able to advance through the season,” New Palestine head coach Ed Marcum said. “You just need a break. The little bloop that fell in there was ours. That’s usually what wins these types of game.”
The game-winning sequence unfolded in the bottom of the sixth as New Palestine senior Abby Davis reached base for the third time. Finishing 1-for-1, Davis drew two walks, including her second in the sixth to jump start the offense.
“I was just looking for the right pitch. If it’s not there, then I got to take it,” said Davis, who is hitting .364 this season. “I have to be looking for that spot, and as lead off, I have to get on base. That’s my job.”
Once on, junior Ashley Prange moved her to third base with a double off a 2-2 pitch to left field. Prange, an Ohio State recruit, was 1-for-3 and is carrying a .500 average through three games.
With one out, Barker came up and connected with the first pitch. She clubbed a towering popup that sailed down the first-base line behind the bag and directly into the setting sun.
Unable to track the ball due to the glare, a trio of Roncalli Rebels’ fielders reacted as the ball fell fair onto the grass between them. Davis scored on an errant throw to home plate while Prange sprinted around third base from second.
A collision with coach Marcum in the third-base coaches box, held Prange at third, but the go-ahead run still scored.
“I see the ball get past the catcher, and I turn to talk to (Prange), and she’s right there,” Marcum laughed. “It’s one of those weird things. It ended up costing us a run.”
Barker made sure it held with a four at-bat top of the seventh.
Scattering four hits all game, Barker induced a popup to Prange at shortstop for the first out. After a throwing error, allowing Roncalli’s Abby Hamilton to reach first, Barker fired the ball to second base for the second out in the next at-bat off a weak grounder.
A groundout to shortstop against Lauren Fey sealed the victory. Barker permitted just one extra-base hit, left seven Rebels stranded and three in scoring position.
“She pitched much better than she did last week, I thought,” Marcum said. “I think the weather has a little to do with it. With it being warmer, she was a little looser and look better. She made a lot of great pitches in key situations.”
She stayed strong despite a 30 minute rain delay midway through the third inning and in the top of the sixth as Roncalli (5-2) threatened.
Amanda Prather, who finished 2-for-3, led off with a double, which Jordan Jenkins followed up with an infield single. An interference call in the next at-bat moved Prather back to second on Scout Leffler’s fielder’s choice, but the runners wouldn’t move any farther.
Barker used five pitches to induce a pop out to Mary Crumlin at first base and a liner to Davis at second.
“This brings your confidence up as a pitcher and your trust in your teammates,” Barker said. “You have to bond through it to get through it and you have to rely on your fielders every time. If we didn’t score that one run, we could still be going. Who knows?”
Prior to Monday, the Dragons rolled past Hoosier Heritage Conference foe New Castle 19-3 in six innings on Friday and Southport 8-3 last Tuesday.
With three ranked 4A programs ahead for the Dragons (3-0) this week, including Franklin Central, Hamilton Southeastern and Jennings County, Monday’s game was a boost.
“This one we knew coming into it, it was going to be tough,” Davis said. “We had to be mentally focused. It just feels really good going into (Franklin Central on Wednesday) to get this win and keep our confidence up.”
New Palestine 1, Roncalli 0
WP: Elisha Barker (NP). LP: Amber Linton (R).
2B: Ashley Prange (NP), Amanda Prather (R). Runs: Abby Davis 1.
Notables: Barker 7.0 IP, 4 hits, 3 K, BB, HBP; Linton 6.0 IP, 4 hits, 0 ER, 4 K, 2 BB; Prather 2-3, 2B; Prange 1-3, 2B; Davis 1-1, 2 BB, run.