NEW PALESTINE — The long ball wasn’t working at first on Thursday night, but once the top-ranked New Palestine Dragons rediscovered their swing, no pitch was safe.
Clubbing a combined six home runs in back-to-back games on their home field, the Class 3A Dragons ignited for 30 runs overall to win the Sectional 26 title and guarantee a rematch with No. 3 Lebanon in Tuesday’s regional.
“You have to take this one step at a time. If you can’t get out of sectional, then you don’t have a shot at regional. That’s been our goal,” New Palestine head coach Ed Marcum said.
The Dragons won their 18th straight game in the sectional semifinals 11-6 against Bishop Chatard (14-12-1) to open the day in a game that was postponed 24 hours due to rain.
In the finale, the Dragons’ lineup went ballistic, again, clinching the program’s 12th sectional championship and second straight against Brebeuf Jesuit 19-0 in five innings by run rule.
The Dragons, who entered the night hitting .431, backed up their prowess with three home runs in each game, including two grand slams by junior Ashley Prange, an Ohio State recruit. The star shortstop upped her season home run total to 19 while the team pushed their state-record mark to 49.
“Honestly, I didn’t know bases were loaded on the second one,” Prange quipped. “I guess I spaced out.”
Her first homer broke the stratosphere at an opportune time with the Bishop Chatard Trojans keeping the Dragons potent lineup at bay until the bottom of the fifth during the semifinals.
New Palestine led 2-0 after the first inning behind a two-run blast by Emily O’Connor, who is second on the team with 13 homers.
The bats fell silence the next three innings, however, as Chatard starter Sara Mastrian (6-4) 10 of the next 12 with a litany of off-speed pitches.
“We knew Chatard would give us a very good game,” Marcum said. “Sometimes the toughest games to win are the ones you’re suppose to, and that’s kind of what I thought about Chatard. I knew they were good enough to beat us, if we didn’t play well.”
Chatard tied the game 2-2 with consecutive runs in the top of the fourth and fifth, but a change on the mound to Maggie Kassenbrock backfired with two runners on base for New Palestine.
With Emma Tucher reaching base on an error to open the inning and a bunt single by nine-hole hitter Tatum Biddle in the next at-bat, Mastrian exited as the Dragons’ bat awoke.
Another bunt single by leadoff hitter Abby Davis set up Prange, who crushed a 2-2 pitch over the left-center field fence.
Prange went 6-for-9 in both games and finished with 10 RBIs — five in each contest.
“We got into the fly ball thing. And with the wind blowing in, we got into a lull,” Marcum said. “Then we went small ball on them. That’s not normally something we need to do, but then the small ball worked until the long ball took over. It was exciting.”
Two batters later, Madison Whitaker hit a 2-run bomb to left-center field to put the Dragons up 8-2. A switch back to Mastrian after Whitaker’s homer did nothing to quiet the order as the Dragons tacked on three more runs in the frame.
New Palestine scored nine runs on eight hits and used two errors to take control.
“I think after the first couple of innings we adjusted well and finally got into a rhythm and picked each other up,” Prange said. “We stuck with it.”
In the title game, the Dragons put it away, leading 7-0 before an 11-run bottom of the third. Prange’s second grand slam unfolded with no outs and Michaela Jones added a three-run shot with one out.
The Dragons had 42 home runs during the regular-season, which broke the state mark set by Warsaw at 33 in 2011. Plainfield previously held the mark for regular season and postseason totals combined.
Elisha Barker, who improved to 18-2 on the season by winning the semifinal, hit a two-run home run in the championship. The Dragons had 10 extra-base hits overall in both games and have now won 19 straight games.
Up next is a meeting with the defending state champion Lebanon Tigers, who defeated Western Boone 10-0 to win their sectional title on Tuesday.
The Dragons lost to the Tigers in the regional title game in Lebanon 7-1. This time the Tigers will come to southern Hancock County. The game is scheduled for 7 p.m.
“It’s a challenge. They’re good. They lost their pitcher and catcher from last year, so they’re a little different, but they still hit and play great defense,” Marcum said. “We’re going to have to play our best. It will be a challenge, but I look forward to it.”
New Palestine 11, Bishop Chatard 6
WP: Elisha Barker (18-2) LP: Sarah Mastrian (6-5)
HR: Emily O’Connor, Ashley Prange, Madison Whitaker (NP).
2B: Prange (NP), Dee Dee Caskey (BC).
Notables: Christine Oppold 2-4 RBI, Cierra Landers 2-2, RBI, Reagon Whillhoite 2-4, RBI, Mastrian 2-4 (BC); Abby Davis 2-3, 3 runs, Prange 2-4, 5 RBI, GS, O’Connor 2-4, 2 RBI, Whitaker 2-4, 2 RBI, Emma Tucher 1-3, 2 RBI, Tatum Biddle 2-3 (NP).
New Palestine 19, Brebeuf Jesuit 0
WP: Mackenzie Jones (9-0) LP: Jocelyn Swan
HR: Elisha Barker, Ashley Prange, Michaela Jones (NP). 2B: Emily O’Connor, Madison Whitaker, Elisha Barker (NP).
Notables: Abby Davis 4-4, 3 RBI, Ashley Prange 4-5, 5 RBI, GS, Emily O’Connor 3-5, Madison Whitaker 1-3, 3 RBI, Barker 2-2 3 RBI, Mi. Jones 1-3, 3 RBI, Kaylee Kropp 2-2, RBI.