By Brian Heinemann

NEW PALESTINE — One pitch was all New Palestine shortstop Ashley Prange needed to see.

Batting second, Prange hit the first pitch of her senior season well over the centerfield wall, sparking the Dragons to a 2-0 lead just minutes into the season.

That set the tone. The defending state champions rode that early momentum, coasting to an 18-0 win against visiting New Castle on Thursday.

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“Ashley takes the first pitch of the season and hits it over the trees,” New Palestine coach Ed Marcum said. “That’s a good start.”

Prange, who fielded two ground balls and a liner to account for all three outs in the top of the first inning, stepped up to the plate for her first at-bat of the season without any particular expectations. With junior Jaylin Calvert on first after leading off with a single, Prange was looking to put a ball in play.

“I was just looking for a good pitch,” Prange said. “She (New Castle pitcher Kelsie Patton) threw me one right down the middle.”

Prange made Patton pay for it. The rest of the Dragons quickly followed suit.

New Palestine’s offense showed no signs of slowing down after a record-breaking 2017, wasting no time piling on the runs and pulling away early.

The Dragons followed Prange’s first shot with four more homers in the second inning. Calvert hit both a solo shot and later a three-run blast in the same inning. Junior Tatum Biddle had a two-run homer and sophomore Michaela Jones added a 3-run blast. Two innings into the season, New Palestine was up 12-0.

More home runs — a grand slam from Prange and solo homer from junior Emily O’Connor, the team’s sixth and seventh of the game — helped push the lead to 18-0 in the fourth inning.

“You can’t expect seven home runs in three innings,” Marcum said. “That’s the cool thing about this team. We hit all the way through the order.”

Prange led the way with six RBIs. Calvert, who finished the game 4-for-4 with two singles and two home runs, finished with four. There were contributions all around, as the team amassed 16 hits in the win.

“They’re on fire,” Prange said of her teammates.

But it wasn’t all about the offense for the Dragons. The bats provided the fireworks. The pitching simply shut down the Trojans.

New Palestine starting pitcher Mackenzie Jones, a senior, kept the Trojans off the board, allowing just two hits in three innings. Sophomore Kaylea Bullock entered in the fourth inning and struck out the side. She allowed one hit in the fifth inning and finished with five strikeouts.

“To be able to start with Mack (Jones) and come in with Kaylea, they are different styles,” Marcum said. “It’s a good mix, something we can use to our advantage.”

It was a successful start to the 2018 campaign for the Dragons, who showed no signs of rust despite multiple rainouts delaying the start of the season.

“It feels really, really good,” Marcum said of his team’s performance. “New Castle is a conference team; having to start with a conference game, you can have some opening jitters. I thought we played well.”

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Brian Heinemann is sports editor of the Daily Reporter. He can be reached at bheinemann@greenfieldreporter.com.