NEW PALESTINE — There’s no secret formula. It’s as simple as see ball, hit ball. Something the top-ranked New Palestine Dragons have made look effortless.
Head coach Ed Marcum credits off-season preparation for his team’s prolific production. Muscle memory singed deep into his hitters’ psyche after countless swings inside an indoor facility, located behind his childhood home, he and his father, Ray, built in 2001.
Ashley Prange points to the team’s unselfish bond, a sisterhood built on trust, friendship and sacrifice toward a common goal. Emily O’Connor explains the Dragons’ state-record home run and runs scored totals a slightly different way.
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“Breathing. Just breathing,” the sophomore said. “When you go up to hit, you take it slow, don’t think about it, and know you’re better than the pitcher. See ball. Hit ball.”
As a collective whole, the Dragons know little else. O’Connor and Prange, a junior, are clobbering pitches to the tune of .565 and .546 batting averages. Six of the 10 starters are knocking the ball around the yard at .402 or better. No one is hitting below .303.
If there is any furtive rationale behind the Class 3A Dragons’ efficiency, Marcum says, it’s no more than confidence. Enough aplomb to rattle history en route to the program’s sixth IHSAA softball state finals appearance and fifth championship game today at Ben Davis High School against Kankakee Valley.
“Honestly, confidence makes all the difference in the world. Hitting is so mental. This team kind of feeds off each other,” Marcum remarked on his Dragons’ .437 team average, ranked fifth-best in the state. “That’s what confidence does for you.”
See ball. Hit ball. Or in the Dragons’ case: See fence. Clear fence.
“It’s our approach at the plate. We’re going to hit our pitches,” O’Connor emphasized. “It’s about being positive, going in wanting that good hit and looking for a good outcome.”
Discipline in the box has resulted in the Dragons outscoring their opponents 91-8 through six playoff games with 13 home runs and 10 consecutive contests with at least one ball screaming out of the park.
Yet, not even Marcum, in his 14th season at New Palestine, could have fathomed the sheer numbers.
Averaging 11.6 runs per game, the Dragons (30-2) have blistered the scoreboard with double-digit runs 19 times this season, including a season-best 27 to open the state tournament against Herron in five innings.
Prange and O’Connor have combined for 34 of the squad’s record-setting 56 home runs, powering the Dragons past Plainfield’s former single-season state mark of 42.
Prange, who committed to Ohio State as an eighth-grader, leads the state with 20 home runs, 57 runs scored and 64 RBIs — one shy of tying the single-season state record set by New Palestine assistant coach Michelle (Marcum) Hokl in 2010.
Formerly with the Indy Magic, and now with the Beverly Bandits for travel ball, Prange’s output has nearly quadrupled, jumping from five home runs and 21 RBI as a sophomore to invaluable catalyst.
“I’ve gotten so much stronger, this year more than anything,” said Prange, who trains at IFAST, Indianapolis Fitness And Sports Training in Fishers.
Self-assurance has been the byproduct of her maturity.
“I used to be, not so much scared, but I think not as confident in myself. I felt like there was that expectation,” Prange explained. “Now, I trust myself a whole lot more. Trusting the process and trusting myself. This is the first year I’ve completely enjoyed it, and remembered, it’s a game.”
More importantly, it’s a passion she shares with her teammates, many she’s known since before high school, including O’Connor, who hits third in the lineup behind Prange.
A full-time varsity starter this spring, O’Connor bided her time as a freshman last season while four-year incumbent Issy Hoyt set the school’s career home run record at 26, which Prange has since broken with 28 to date.
O’Connor wasn’t guaranteed to fill Hoyt’s shoes at third base initially, but a hamstring injury to senior Madison Whitaker earlier this season opened the door. Once she gained her footing, O’Connor broke out, belting 14 home runs and driving in 59 runs.
“I said all winter she was going to have a big season for us,” Marcum said. “You could see the talent there last year. It’s just tough when you’re a freshman. You don’t get a lot of playing time, so it adds more pressure on you to produce when you do get your opportunities. I expected her to have a big year, but I wouldn’t expect anyone to have the type of year her and Ashley have had.”
Timing is everything, and it’s a first in Marcum’s tenure for the Dragons to have not one but two players surpass 50-plus RBIs simultaneously.
His daughter Alyssa (Marcum) Dillard, now an assistant coach, had 57 RBI as a senior on the state championship team in 2008. Michelle drove in 65 runs as a senior, a year after the Dragons won their third state title in five seasons. The program’s first state championship run was in 2004 — Ed Marcum’s first year as head coach.
“That’s the amazing thing about it, to have that many RBIs from two positions, especially with Ashley hitting in the two spot and Emily in the three,” Marcum said.
Both default to each other for their success and to their teammates, beginning with senior leadoff hitter Abby Davis (.474), a Dayton signee.
Whitaker (.421), a Wright State recruit and starting left fielder, protects the duo in the cleanup stop, a role she claimed after missing two weeks due to injury.
Senior ace Elisha Barker (.458), an Embry-Riddle Aeronautical commit, follows Whitaker in the order and crushed a pair of home runs — eight total this season — during the Dragons’ 10-1 win in the Jasper Semistate title game.
Freshman catcher Michaela Jones (.406) has seven home runs in the sixth hole, and senior Mary Crumlin (.402), a Marian University recruit, can hit with authority in the seventh spot.
“I think everyone, really, is on fire this year,” Prange said. “We just need to keep playing like we have been playing. We need to keep our bats alive because I think that can make us unstoppable. We play so much better when we have fun.”
With a state-record 370 runs scored and five hits away from tying the 2010 New Palestine team (453) for an another state mark, the Dragons are locked in on finishing what they started.
A potential 23rd straight victory today at 4:30 p.m. against last year’s state runner-ups would complete their journey, eight years in the making when many of the players watched the 2009 team win it all.
“We’re all really excited. No one is really nervous. Well, we’re good nervous I get guess,” Prange said. “We all get along so well. We all love each other. It’s not just one or two people. Everyone is willing to do anything for the person next to them and for the team. Everyone is selfless.”
If You Go
What: IHSAA Class 3A Softball State Championship Game
Who: New Palestine (30-2) vs. Kankakee Valley (22-8)
Where: Ben Davis High School (1200 N. Girls School Rd, Indianapolis, IN 46214)
When: Today at 4:30 p.m.
Admission: $10 per person
Broadcast: TV – FOX Sports Indiana/ Internet – IHSAATV.org and Dragon Radio
Projected Starting Lineups
New Palestine Dragons
Coach: Ed Marcum (14th season, 356-58)
Kankakee Valley Kougars
Coach: Brian Flynn (24th season, 359-301)
New Palestine Dragons
Kankakee Valley Kougars
12: The Dragons have run-ruled a dozen teams this season, including three in the postseason.
16: The New Palestine lineup has belted multiple home runs in 16 games this season.
20: New Palestine’s Ashley Prange leads the state in home runs with 20, setting a single-season school record and state record.
22: New Palestine is riding the second-longest winning streak in school history at 22 games. The school record is 32, set over the 2008 and 2009 seasons.
27: The Dragons have hit at least one home run in 27 of 32 games this year.
28: Dragons’ shortstop Ashley Prange owns the school’s career home run record with 28, breaking Issy Hoyt’s mark at 26 set in 2016.
56: The Dragons have blasted a state-record 56 home runs this year, surpassing Plainfield for the all-time mark.
59: New Palestine’s Emily O’Connor has 59 RBI, which is fifth-best in a single season in state history.
64: Dragons’ Ashley Prange has 64 RBI on the year, trailing the state record, held by New Palestine assistant coach Michelle (Marcum) Hokl (2010), by one.
70: The Dragons offense has produced 70 runs scored in the first inning of their 32 games this season. The second most is 64 in the third.
91: The Dragons have outscored their opponents 91-8 this postseason.
370: New Palestine has scored a state-record 370 runs this season, surpassing Garrett (364 in 1988).
448: The Dragons have recorded 448 hits this season, needing five more to tie the state mark set by the 2010 Dragons (453).
Making an Impact
Ed Marcum’s year-by-year record (14 seasons, 356-58)
2004: 29-4, state champion
2006: 28-2, regional champion, state semifinalist
2008: 29-3, state champion
2009: 30-1, state champion
2010: 28-4, regional champion, semistate finalist
2011: 22-7, regional champion
2016: 24-3, sectional champion
2017: 30-2, semistate champion