Dragons win 4th straight sectional: Defending champs keep three-peat hopes alive with big win

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NEW PALESTINE — What will likely prove to be the last at-bat at New Palestine’s current softball field was a fitting one.

The Dragons found themselves leading Indian Creek by seven runs in the bottom of the fifth inning, three runs away from a run-rule finish to the Sectional 27 championship game. The bases were loaded. Senior Emily O’Connor was at the plate.

New Palestine needed three and O’Connor gave them four. The senior blasted a grand slam, finishing off the Braves and giving the Dragons their 14th sectional championship in program history.

“I felt like O’C was going to hit one. She kind of had that look,” New Palestine coach Ed Marcum said. “If in fact this is their last game on this diamond, it’s a little emotional, but what a way to end it, with a grand slam. That’s one I’ll never forget.”

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O’Connor wasn’t particularly heading to the plate with a grand slam in mind. She just wanted to get some more runs in.

Instead, she got a memorable home finale.

“Honestly, I just wanted to get some runs for my team, whichever way it happened,” O’Connor said. “I just wanted to hit the ball hard, and usually if I swing hard, I usually hit it, so … Whoever the attention falls on, it’s all Dragons, it’s all New Pal, it’s all family.”

The push to Purdue marches on for the Dragons thanks in part to another big offensive output.

New Palestine won its three sectional games this week by a combined score of 43-2, ending each game via run-rule. The 11-0 score Thursday was identical to last year’s sectional-championship win against the Braves.

This year’s win was a remarkable one for the program and the six seniors on the team.

“As I told the seniors, that’s four straight sectionals for them,” Marcum said. “I don’t think that’s ever happened before here. Just really excited. As I told them, we were supposed to win, but that doesn’t always mean that you do. I felt like we were really focused.”

That focus started right away. After a quick first inning defensively, senior Jaylin Calvert hammered the second pitch she saw over the fence, scoring what proved to be the winning run before the Dragons ever recorded an out.

“I think it was really big. We want to jump on every team, stay on them the whole time,” Calvert said. “When we can get that lead, it really helps. It gets everyone up in the dugout and we just kind of carry that through the whole game.”

The Dragons barely had to take the bats off their shoulders to add to the lead. Six first-inning walks, a wild pitch and a timely two-RBI single from Kendal Calvert opened up a 5-0 lead.

From there, the New Palestine defense took the lead for a few innings. Several big plays were made in the field, including a slick double play from Michaela Jones at shortstop and a nice catch at second from Tatum Biddle in the fourth inning.

Perhaps the biggest play of the game followed Biddle’s catch. With a runner on, Emma Tucher tracked a ball all the way to the right field fence, leaning over and robbing a home run to keep the Braves off the board.

“I thought defensively, that play Tatum made and then Emma robs a home run, took away any momentum,” Marcum said. “It’s 5-0. That could have changed it, there.”

Almost as soon as Tucher prevented a home run, New Palestine hit another. Macy Miller added to the lead two batters later, following a leadoff single from O’Connor with a two-run home run to extend the lead to seven.

With the way the defense was playing and a strong pitching performance from starter Sam Booe, the Dragons were well on their way to a championship.

Booe struck out five consecutive batters in the second and third innings. She finished the game with those five strikeouts and just four hits allowed, walking none and allowing no runs in four innings. Kaylea Bullock came on in relief, throwing the final inning. She struck out two and allowed no hits, runs or walks.

For Booe, only a sophomore, it was a special experience to start — and win — a sectional championship game.

“It was awesome. It was pretty cool, not going to lie,” Booe said. “I was excited, I was nervous in warmups, but as soon as I stepped on the field all my worries went away because I knew I had my defense behind me.”

New Palestine (25-3) will visit the winner of the Owen Valley sectional in Tuesday’s regional. West Vigo and No. 6 Northview play for that sectional title tonight.

They Dragons will be on the road now for whatever games they have left, leaving behind their home field — due to be moved before next season due to renovations of the high school — as they move deeper into the tournament.

“It’s definitely really special, because this is the last game on this field,” O’Connor said. “We know that every game is going to be big, because everyone wants to beat us. We’re going to get the best from every team. This is just the first step.”

The next step is simple — win a regional, no matter the opponent. With the way the Dragons are playing, they are confident they can do so as they try to complete a championship three-peat.

“I think we’re really all on right now,” Jaylin Calvert said. “It’s really great. We’re hitting top to bottom, and we’re all just coming together. I think we’re playing really well right now.”

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New Palestine 11, Indian Creek 0

IC;000;00;—;0;4;0

NP;500;24;—;11;10;0

WP: Sam Booe. LP: Alley Fleener.

HR: Jaylin Calvert, Macy Miller (NP). 3B: Emily O’Connor (NP). RBI: Miller 2, Kendal Calvert 2, J. Calvert, Tatum Biddle (NP).

Notable: Booe 4 IP, 5 K, 4 H, 0 R; Kaylea Bullock 3 IP, 2 K, 0 H, 0 R; J. Calvert 3-for-3, HR, RBI; O’Connor 3-for-3, HR, 4 RBIs, 3 R (NP).

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