NEW PALESTINE — If Mt. Vernon coach Veronica Kirby had been wearing a hat she would have tipped it.
As disappointed as the coach was in her softball team’s 4-0 season-ending loss in the Class 4A Sectional 9 opener to sixth-ranked New Palestine, she had to give credit where credit was due.
New Palestine pitcher Courtney Study threw a three-hitter, letting only one Marauder base-runner reach second base. Study only struck out three. She relied heavily on her defense, which made all the plays in Monday’s tournament opener at New Palestine High School.
“We hit the ball solid and made contact really well, they just made some really good defensive plays when they needed to and got good outs when they needed to,” Kirby said. “That’s how you’re going to win championships, getting the good outs. We hit the ball hard and well and right to them.
“We couldn’t find the gaps, unfortunately, and they made some great defensive plays. Defense wins championships.”
The Dragons got the balls hit at them and the balls that weren’t.
New Palestine right fielder Sydney Oliver made a big play on the run on a liner to start the third inning. She had four putouts and had a big assist on a force out in the second.
With the score 1-0, Mt. Vernon’s Graci Hines led off with a single to right field. Emma Jenkins hit a similar ball to right, but Oliver made the play quickly and was able to force out courtesy runner Tori Jenson at second base. Jenson had to delay her break to second to make sure the ball was going to drop. Oliver alertly threw to second to get the lead runner.
“Those are the most fun games when I get a lot of action,” Oliver said. “Before every pitch I go through the play and know where I’m going if the ball is hit to me. We work on that in practice all the time, what we do in certain situations. That really prepared me to, even if I don’t make the catch, know where to go next.”
A Mt. Vernon sacrifice bunt got Jenkins to second, but that would be the only runner to get in scoring position.
Center fielder Maddie Engle made a two-out diving catch to end the fourth inning. On the game’s final out, left fielder Nyla Lewis made the catch on one of the hardest hit balls of the night. Junior Allie Blum made a couple difficult plays look routine from her shortstop position, too.
“Sydney, she’s crazy, the play she made (on the force out), and Maddie, that diving catch …,” Study said. “It’s always nice to know that my defense can always come through.”
The Dragons looked close to breaking the game open on a number of occasions. They left 12 runners on base, two each in the first second, fifth, sixth, and seventh innings.
Oliver helped on the offensive side, too, getting the Dragons on the board with an RBI-single in the first inning.
“Sydney Oliver had a great day, offensively, and the way she played right field was spectacular,” New Palestine coach Ed Marcum said. “She kept making catch after catch after catch. She owned it out there. She had a huge day.”
Blum drew a one-out first-inning walk and moved to second on a two-out single by Paige Ernstes. Oliver followed with a single to center field to give the Dragons a 1-0 lead.
Oliver was one of two Dragons to have two hits.
In the fourth inning, Katie Hirschy led off with a double. She scored on a pinch-hit single from Kayla Bain. Lewis reentered for Bain to run. Aglaia Rudd followed Bain’s hit with a double, a throw home went errant and Lewis scored easily with the third run of the game.
In the sixth, Rudd, who also had a two-hit game, reached after being hit by pitch. Courtesy runner Jersi Gross scored the fourth run on a two-out double from Alyssa Mumaw.
Study retired 18 of the last 19 batters faced. After Hines’s leadoff single in the second, Mt. Vernon did not have another hit until a two-out sixth-inning single by Shelby Rakosky.
New Palestine improved to 22-4 on the season and will play Muncie Central in a semifinal game Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. Mt. Vernon season ends with a 14-11 record.
New Palestine 4, Mt. Vernon 0
New Palestine (21-4);100;201;0; — ;4;9;0
Mt. Vernon (14-11);000;000;0 — ;0;3;1
Courtney Study and Aglaia Rudd. Graci Hines and Easton Wampler. 2B: NP — Katie Hirschy, Alyssa Mumaw, Reese Rosenbaum, Rudd. WP: Study (17-1). LP: Hines (4-3).