NEW PALESTINE — The wind was blowing and the ball was flying off the hitters’ bats Wednesday afternoon, but top-ranked New Palestine wasn’t concerned with home runs.
They wanted to win, and it didn’t matter how.
Turning the corner last week after a disappointing loss to Zionsville 9-7, the Class 3A Dragons were both opportunistic and unified in their approach at home against 4A No. 3 Center Grove.
The result was a 12-hit domino attack by the Dragons (14-2) en route to a 5-4 win against the formerly unbeaten Trojans (14-1).
“We had a really tough week last week and really had a letdown against Zionsville,” New Palestine head coach Ed Marcum said. “We had a pretty good meeting after that, and I think the girls took it to heart. They’ve responded very well.”
Since the setback on the road on April 19, the Dragons have strung together six consecutive wins in seven days. And despite facing a quick 2-0 deficit against Center Grove on Wednesday, they never lost faith.
Eight of the Dragons’ batters recorded at least one hit — all singles — and every hitter reached base at least once.
In the bottom of the first inning, all nine Dragons recorded a plate appearance, racking up five hits and a walk to take the lead 3-2.
Ashley Prange, the state’s leader in home runs at 10, kicked off the rally with a one-out single out. Emily O’Connor kept the momentum going with a single, and clean-up hitter Elisha Barker put the Dragons on the board with her 22nd RBI on the year via a single.
A two-run single with two outs by Mackenzie Jones put the Dragons ahead. Jones finished 2-for-4 along with Prange and Barker.
“We had a tough loss last week, but this is a way to bounce back,” said Prange, who is hitting .552 as a junior. “(Marcum) had a talk with us. Losses like that that happen, but it’s how you come back from it.
“I think we’ve done a really good job of coming back together as a team and relying on each other. We have each others’ backs.”
The Dragons’ lineup, which hit .403 prior to the game, supported Barker, their ace, throughout after the Trojans led 2-0 off a two-run home run by Jordyn Rudd, who went 4-for-4 with two home runs.
“After being down 2-0, it’s easy to get your head down, but we stayed in it and we believed in ourselves,” Prange said. “We knew we could do it.”
Center Grove carried a .443 batting average through its 14-0 run this season, and against New Palestine they showcased their muscle, clubbing three home runs to give them 18 this season.
Rudd’s second blast came with two outs and no one on base in the top of the seventh. Tyler LeMasters’ solo home run in the second to tie the game at 3-3 was sandwiched in between.
Barker, however, never wavered to improve to 9-2 on the year. She surrendered four runs on eight hits with five strikeouts.
Barker left a pair of Trojans’ runners stranded in scoring position in the third, fourth and fifth innings as her defense flashed the leather.
“This is probably the best game she’s pitched this year,” Marcum said. “She did a good job hitting her spots, mixing her pitches and making the big pitch. She’s done that a lot this year.”
Center Grove starter Nicole Abram (7-1) suffered her first loss, lasting 2.2 innings with four earned runs allowed, two walks and one strikeout. She was relieved by Abby Herbst, who gave up a run and struck out three.
“Any time you beat one of the best programs in the state, who is undefeated through the first half of the year, you know you have to play well,” Marcum said. “Rudd put two home runs up against us, but we came back after the first inning. If we shut down there, it’s a different game.”
Instead the Dragons used small ball to prevail. Through 15 games prior, the Dragons had clubbed 22 home runs.
“It’s nice to see you don’t have to hit it over the fence to win,” Prange said. “We had little shots here or there. It was awesome.”
The decisive RBI single unfolded with two outs in the bottom of the fourth as Michaela Jones laced a grounder up the middle to score courtesy runner Tete Hart from second base.
Barker closed out the game in the seventh, leaving Abram on second base, following Rudd’s second home run, by inducing a routine grounder to Prange at short.
“It takes an all-around team effort to beat a team like that,” Marcum said. “It’s a quality win. Now, we just need to build on this.”
They host Hoosier Heritage Conference foe Shelbyville (6-6, 1-3) today at 5:30 p.m. and look to remain unbeaten at 3-0 in the conference — tied with Greenfield-Central (13-1, 3-0) atop the standings.
New Palestine 5, Center Grove 4
WP: Elisha Barker LP: Nicole Abrams
HR: Tyler LeMasters, Jordyn Rudd 2 (CG).
RBI: J. Rudd 3, T. LeMasters (CG); Abby Davis, E. Barker, Michaela Jones, Mackenzie Jones 2 (NP).
Notables: Ashley Prange 2-4, E. Barker 2-4, 6.0 IP, 5 K, 4 BB, Mary Crumlin 2-4, Mackenzie Jones 2-4 (NP); J. Rudd 4-4 (CG).