FRANKLIN — The New Palestine softball team was shut out for the first time all season Wednesday. As a result, the Dragons were denied their first Class 4A sectional title.
Coming out on top 1-0 in a pitchers’ duel, Olivia Paszek of the host Grizzly Cubs held the No. 5-ranked Dragons to five hits over seven innings. New Palestine starter Kaylin McMurray also allowed five hits, one of which came to start the bottom of the seventh inning, as Gabi Terhune reached on a infield single and was replaced by pinch-runner Krystal Scott, who moved to second on a sacrifice bunt, advanced to third on a groundout and scored the winning run on a wild pitch.
Franklin players mobbed Scott at home in a manner that would be expected of a program without a softball sectional title since 1999. In the 15 years since the Grizzly Cubs (17-9) last claimed a crown, New Palestine (24-4) won seven sectionals, the first of which was in 2A and the last six in 3A.
State champs for 3A in 2004, 2008 and 2009, the Dragons were hoping to take the first step toward expanding their powerhouse program into the 4A era Wednesday. They were bumped up one class due to increased enrollment in 2012; the Dragons’ last sectional title was 2011.
“If you don’t end with a win it stinks, no matter how far you go,” NP coach Ed Marcum said. “Every loss stinks. But we had an opportunity to win a 4A sectional.
“I thought we did a great job coming back (Tuesday in a 7-5 win over Center Grove) and I was hoping that momentum would carry over for today. But I was also afraid of a letdown. And we just didn’t have the same fire that we had at the end of the game last night.”
Franklin, as the Sectional 13 champ, will host the Sectional 14 winner in a one-game regional championship Tuesday. The Sectional 14 semifinals at Columbus North will feature Bloomington North-Bloomington South and CN-Shelbyville today. The Grizzly Cubs didn’t win a regional championship in either of their two previous attempts (1999, 1991).
Against Center Grove in the sectional semifinal Tuesday, the Dragons were no-hit through four innings, then scored all seven of their runs in the final two frames.
New Palestine, which carried a .407 team average into the championship, again got off to a slow start. Through five innings, a pair of Markie Wood singles marked the only damage against Paszek (16-6), and Wood was stranded on both occasions. In the sixth, the Dragons put runners on second and third with two outs on singles by Brittany Duncan and Issy Hoyt, but Paszek induced a pop-up to end the threat. Casey Lehman led off New Palestine’s seventh frame with a single, but she too was stranded.
“We were awful offensively,” said Marcum, whose club’s lowest previous scoreboard output was a 3-1 loss to Cathedral, May 6. “I’ve never seen us be so impatient. We would take good pitches and swing at bad pitches. It’s just not like us to have that many poor swings and bad at-bats.
“I don’t want to take anything away from Olivia. She pitched a great game. If we’re going to swing at it, she might as well throw it there. She pitched a great game and we didn’t make their defense work.”
Paszek recorded four strikeouts and no walks and the Franklin defense was error-free. McMurray (14-3) struck out one and walked one. The Dragons’ defense made one error, which didn’t factor into the outcome.
Despite the loss, New Palestine won’t let up on its traditional postseason aspirations. The Dragons will return next year with most of their lineup intact.
“You know, 24-4 is a great season,” Marcum said. “But, our goal is always to pursue a state championship, and that starts with a sectional championship. And we had a great opportunity, but I’ll give Franklin Community all the credit. They did a great job and they outplayed us today.”
Class 4A Sectional 13 Championship
At Franklin, Wednesday
Franklin 1, New Palestine 0
SCORE BY INNINGS R H E
NP (24-4) 000 000 0 — 0 5 1
FR (17-9) 000 000 1 — 1 5 0
WP: O. Paszek (16-6). LP: McMurray (14-3).
NP: McMurray 7 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 1 K, 1 BB; Wood 2-3.
FR: O. Paszek 7 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 4 K, 0 BB; Potter 2-2; Terhune 2-2.