PENDLETON — It had all the ingredients for an emotional matchup.
Two Hancock County and Hoosier Heritage Conference rivals were opening their Class 4A Sectional 9 softball tournament at Pendleton Heights’ Legends Field, Monday, with a head-to-head confrontation.
A little extra incentive was on the table for Mt. Vernon (12-8). It lost the regular season battle to Greenfield-Central 3-0 on April 29 at G-C.
Balancing those emotions were key, Mt. Vernon coach Veronica Kirby said, in her team pulling away late and eliminating the Cougars, 8-2.
“We stayed focus the whole game,” Kirby said. “We talked about not letting our emotions dictate how we play. If we stay focused and not let our emotions control us, one way or the other, good things will happen.
“We stayed focused and fought through every inning, every at-bat, every situation. Our awareness in the game is better when we are focused.”
That awareness included heads up base-running and some key plays by some tournament first-timers.
The Marauders broke a 2-2 tie with one run in the fifth. They got all the insurance runs needed with a five-run sixth, which was highlighted by one of their few tourney vets, Easton Wampler, who hit a three-run homer.
Freshman pitcher Graci Hines got the win and had three of the Marauders seven hits. Her courtesy runner, Hayvin Turner scored three times.
Turner scored the go-ahead fifth-inning run. Replacing Hines who had singled to center field. Turner moved up on a pair of wild pitches. In an attempt to get Turner out at third base, the throw went astray. She scored to give MV a 3-2 lead after five innings.
In the sixth, leadoff hitter Victoria Jenson reached on an error. Following a pair of sacrifice bunts by Alexis Beeler and Hannah Matthews, Jenson moved to third. The Cougars elected to intentionally walk varsity veteran Shelby Rakosky, but a wild pitch followed the walk,, enabling Jenson to score. Rakosky moved to third and scored on an RBI-single by Mya Fields. Hines followed with her third single and Wampler put the game away with a three-run home run.
“I can’t say enough about Hannah Matthews and Alexis Beeler getting their bunts down and rolling us back to the top of the lineup, where we wanted to be,” Kirby said. “They executed, did their job and stayed focus. That was so big and crucial. If we can keep focusing like this, we’re going to do a lot of good things.”
Greenfield-Central tied the game with two third-inning runs. Lilly Stewart led the frame off with a single to center field. She stole second and scored on a single up the middle by Megan Wineinger. With two out, Wineinger moved to second on a wild pitch, then scored when Olivia Roberts fly ball to left field was dropped.
Mt. Vernon, with just one hit, scored two first-inning runs. The Marauders drew four walks. After Rakosky walked, Hines singled to right field. The next three MV batters, Wampler, Drew Fithian, and Ainsley Baer, all drew bases on balls. Fithian and Baer each reached with the bases loaded.
Only three Mt. Vernon players, Wampler, Fithian and Rakosky were part of last year’s tournament run that saw the Marauders reach the semistate round.
Greenfield-Central was playing with a young group, too. It had four freshmen in the starting lineup and five played in the game.
“It’s pretty hard to swallow. If you just field the ball and don’t walk people, you don’t give up a run,” Greenfield-Central coach Jason Stewart said. “We’ve been in a spot this year where we’ve played a lot of freshman out there. This was their first sectional game and some of them may have got caught up in the moment a little bit.
“They’ve done a good job for us all year. We didn’t hit enough and didn’t string our hits together. We dug a hole early.”
The Cougars finished 15-8 with a lot of newcomers in their lineup, but they’ll miss a strong-hitting senior class that includes veteran starters Morgan Hornaday, Ellie Ewald, Ella Redman and Wineinger along with Taylor Smith and Brianna Jack.
“A lot of those kids have started for me for a few years. They’ve been a pleasure to coach. It’s tough to swallow to see this be their last game,” Stewart added.
The win was Mt. Vernon’s fourth straight. They will take on Muncie Central (2-9) in today’s second semifinal game, expected to get started between 7-7:30 p.m. In the first semifinal, at 5:30 p.m., Pendleton Heights (22-6) will play Anderson (7-11).
The championship game is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday.
Mt. Vernon 8, Greenfield-Central 2
Greenfield-Central (15-8);002;000;x; —;2;6;3
Mt. Vernon (12-8);200;015;x; —;8;7;2
2B: Shelby Rakosky, Drew Fithian (MV). HR: Easton Wampler (MV).
WP: Graci Hines (CG, 7 Ks). LP: Madysen Herbert.