NEW PALESTINE — Pitching, defense and timely hitting.
On Wednesday night, the Class 4A No. 4 New Palestine Dragons utilized all three against 4A No. 7 Center Grove to keep their perfect season alive.
Senior ace Sam Booe threw a complete-game shutout with nine strikeouts, freshman shortstop Allie Blum turned in a pair of crucial web gems and junior Grace Paquette delivered a key RBI sacrifice fly to lock down New Palestine’s 15th straight win.
“That’s exactly what I expected. When Center Grove and New Pal get together that’s what happens,” Dragons head coach Ed Marcum remarked after New Palestine’s 1-0 victory. “Both teams had opportunities to put some runs on, and the pitchers stepped up and the defense stepped up.”
Booe put her foot down from the opening pitch, striking out the first five batters she faced and six of the visiting Trojans’ initial seven hitters in the first and second innings.
Overall, the Dragons (15-0) and Trojans (13-4) left a combined 14 runners on base with eight for New Palestine, but neither ace would let any runs cross home plate easily.
Southern Illinois recruit, senior Alexis Rudd nearly matched Booe, a University of Louisville commit, with five strikeouts, two walk and five hits allowed over 6.0 innings pitched.
Booe countered with seven scoreless frames, four hits surrendered and one walk — only her second in 45.1 innings this season.
When the Trojans tried to pressure Booe with five runners in scoring position, the right-hander and her defense worked out of the jams to leave six stranded in total.
“She didn’t have her best stuff tonight, and like I told her, she came out here against one of the best teams in the state and didn’t have her best stuff and still had nine strikeouts and threw a shutout,” Marcum said.
“There were a lot of good defensive plays behind her and that’s exactly what she said. She couldn’t have done it without all of them.”
Blum flashed the leather twice to end the top of the fifth and sixth innings, halting a potential threat in the latter.
Caught off guard while playing too shallow in the top of the fourth, Blum was bested by Center Grove’s Lex Warner, who flared a two-out single just over the infield into left-center field.
In the ensuing two innings, Blum dove to stop a hard ground ball hit up the middle by Trojans’ Ashlynn Wolff for the final out at first base and later robbed Warner of a 3-for-3 day at the plate.
The lone Trojan with two hits, Warner, who finished 2-for-3, tried to drive the ball through the infield with a runner in scoring position at second base and two outs.
Blum sprung towards the grounder, smothered it and fired a line drive throw from her knees to extinguish Center Grove’s hopes of a rally in the sixth, down 1-0.
“We only had one run and Sam did great. She was shutting them down. They had a lot of times with runners on second and third, and we just stayed sharp and stayed focused behind her,” Blum said.
“I saw that our second baseman was playing back and that the runner was fast, so I could either pick it or try to catch it, and I tried to catch it, but I didn’t quite get it. So, I just scooped it and threw it from my knees.”
Center Grove had runners in scoring position in the top of the third, fourth and sixth.
Booe escaped the third by inducing a pair of pop outs with two runners on base, and a grounder to third base in the fourth silenced the Trojans with runners on third and second after a two-out single by Warner and a double from Jazi Cangany.
Blum’s defense in the sixth left Trojans’ Payton Shimansky stranded at second base after she reached base on a walk.
New Palestine left six runners in scoring position.
Rudd struck out two and induced a ground out in the bottom of the first to get out of the frame unscathed and registered her third strikeout in the bottom of the third to leave runners on the corners, but not before Paquette came through.
With one out and runners on first and third, Blum launched an 0-2 offering from Rudd into deep right field, bringing home Alaina Miller on a sacrifice fly to give New Palestine a 1-0 lead.
“We’re looking for something to drive to the right side, and she took an 0-1 pitch at first, which was the pitch that she wanted and she knew it,” Marcum said. “But, then came back, stayed on it and got, obviously, a big sac fly there to score the run.
“That’s how she’s earned her way into the lineup. She’s done exactly what we’ve asked her to do, and obviously, it paid off big tonight with that sac fly.”
The Dragons put runners on the corners in the top of the second and had two in scoring position, once again, in the sixth, but the big hit eluded them.
“This isn’t the team that’s going to put up 10 (runs) on everybody, but it’s a team that’s just fun. They’re doing what I’m asking them to do and they’re just staying with it,” Marcum said.
On the season, the Dragons are hitting .359 as a team and averaging 8.86 runs per game. Their five hits against Center Grove matched their previous two season-lows against Mt. Vernon (3-1 win on April 22) and Zionsville (9-3 win on April 23).
However, the Trojans’ four losses have all unfolded when their batting order has logged five hits or less such as against 4A No. 1 Roncalli, 4-0, on April 7; No. 2 Lake Central, 6-0, on April 10; and 4A Columbus North, 3-1, this past Friday.
Kendal Calvert had a pair of hits for the Dragons, finishing 2-for-3, while Aglaia Rudd, Sydney Oliver and Paquette each had a single apiece.
Yet, as the Dragons proved, when the bats aren’t going, they can win other ways.
“I had backed (Blum) up because the girl had hit that little floater in just over her a few innings back, so I had her way back and for her to come in as far as she did and then slid into it. She did a great job,” Marcum said. “And then the one up the middle. She’s struggled offensively tonight, but she didn’t carry that out to her defense, which I thought was huge.”
The Dragons host 4A No. 10 Shelbyville today for their third Hoosier Heritage Conference game this year. New Palestine is 2-0 in the HHC, trailing the Golden Bears (15-1, 5-0 HHC) in the standings.
“We have another big one (today). I know Shelbyville is hot, so I’m looking forward to it,” Marcum said.
On Saturday, the Dragons host No. 1 Roncalli at 10 a.m. in what is projected to be another tight game.
“Today a good learning opportunity for us. I’m proud of all of us for staying focused,” Blum said. “That is a big thing in this game.”