INDIANAPOLIS — Emily O’Connor never took her eye off the ball.
One out away from a Class 3A state title Saturday evening, New Palestine’s O’Connor locked in as Kankakee Valley’s Sarah Starr drilled the ball into the dirt toward third base.
Scooping up the one-hop grounder, O’Connor rifled a perfect throw in one fluid motion across the diamond toward Mary Crumlin’s outstretched arm at first base. Neither player was going to let this opportunity slip away, and they didn’t.
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After eight long years, New Palestine (31-2) softball was finally back. They became state champions, again, defeating Kankakee Valley 13-6 at Ben Davis High School.
Their pent up elation overflowed as the Dragons surrounded ace pitcher Elisha Barker in a care-free dogpile.
Once the youths in the stands, watching their heroes of yesteryear win it all in 2009 for a third time in program history, today’s Dragons added a fourth, and they did it their way.
“We just kept going with it, and that’s what we’ve done all year because of the depth that we have in our lineup,” New Palestine head coach Ed Marcum said. “We just keep going and hitting the ball through the order.”
The Dragons’ record-setting offense flexed its muscle early to take a 2-0 lead and later break a 2-2 tie in the top of the fourth with a decisive eight-run inning.
The Dragons set three 3A state finals team records and tied another to win their 23 consecutive game and cement the squads’ place in history. The Dragons also broke two more state records.
The Dragons had 17 hits, which was a 3A state finals game record, and tied another 3A mark with seven hits during their momentum swing in the fourth inning.
New Palestine’s 13 runs set a new standard in the 3A title game, which surpassed the Dragons’ former mark of 10 in 2009, along with its 10 RBIs that overthrew the program’s previous record nine in the 2009 state finals.
New Palestine junior Ashley Prange added to her own state-record season by belting her 21st home run, driving in three of New Palestine’s eight runs in the fourth. The blast soared over the center-field fence and pushed her RBI total to 67 on the year, which eclipsed New Palestine assistant coach Michelle (Marcum) Hokl’s former state record of 65 RBIs.
The home run pushed New Palestine’s single-season state record to 57 through 33 games.
“We had that huge inning, and the atmosphere was great,” Prange said. “No one ever gets down. I’m so proud of my team.”
The Dragons led 2-0 after breaking through in the top of the second. A two-run single by Abby Davis put the prolific offense in motion and helped New Palestine tie the state record for most hits in a single season (453).
An O’Connor single in the third inning put the Dragons over the top in that category before the lineup tacked on 11 more hits the rest of the way for 465 overall.
Prange finished 3-for-4 with three RBIs as nine Dragons recorded at least one hit with five extra-base hits. Kanakee Valley and New Palestine combined to set 3A state title game records in most combined hits (29) and most combined runs (19).
New Palestine’s Mary Crumlin, who went 3-for-4 with an RBI, tied the 3A championship record with two of the team’s four doubles.
Prange’s home run marked the 28th time the Dragons have had at least one ball leave the yard during a game this season. Their 13 runs pushed their state-record total in a single season to 383.
Barker earned her 22nd win of the year, pitching a complete game with four strikeouts. She was named the IHSAA’s Mental Attitude Award winner for the 3A championship game.
“I’m happy that I could experience it with this team. We’re like a second family,” Barker said. “It’s an amazing experience. It’s unbelievable.”
The championship is the fourth for coach Marcum, who led the Dragons to titles in 2004 and their second in 2008.
“I’m really happy for the girls. We get excited as coaches, but we get excited because of the opportunities these players have,” said Marcum, who is 357-58 in his 14 seasons at New Palestine. “It’s been eight years, but this is hard to do. We kind of got on a roll there early, so people just thought this was going to happen all the time, but it’s tough. I’m thrilled to bring it back to New Palestine, but more so than anything, I’m so happy for the players and their parents.”
More coverage of the state champs on B1.