PENDLETON — One of the state’s winningest softball programs won something it hadn’t won before Thursday.

A six-time Class 3A state champion and consistently one of the top programs when it became a Class 4A-sized school in 2021, New Palestine won its first Class 4A sectional Thursday, beating Hancock County neighbors and Hoosier Heritage Conference rival Greenfield-Central, 10-4, at Legends Field on the campus of Pendleton Heights High School.

The Dragons were in a sectional with Roncalli in 2021 and 2022, and lost to the Royals team led by All-American and former Gatorade National Player of the Year, pitcher Keagan Rothrock. A year ago, New Palestine was upset in the sectional championship by Pendleton Heights on its home field.

There was no denying the Dragons this time.

They outscored opponents 40-4 in three sectional tournament games, and it was 40-0 until Greenfield-Central scored two runs each in its final two at-bats.

“(We’re) going 3A next year, so this may be our last shot for awhile,” New Palestine head coach Ed Marcum said. “We’ve been in some 4A (sectionals) where we were right there and we just couldn’t quite finish it, facing Rothrock a few times. We’ve had some good battles and been in some 4A championships, we just hadn’t been able to get it done. I was really proud of the girls. They came out with a lot of focus and intensity.”

On Thursday, the Dragons jumped out quickly. After pitcher Courtney Study retired the Cougars in order in the top of the first inning, the Dragons scored three in the bottom half.

The early leads have been common the entire tournament.

New Palestine scored six in the first inning against Muncie Central in the first round and four against Pendleton Heights in the opening inning Wednesday.

The Dragons started with a slap single from leadoff hitter Jersi Gross and a double that hit the bottom of the right-center field fence by Allie Blum. A sacrifice fly from Paige Ernstes scored Gross and moved Blum to third base. Sydney Oliver followed with a triple to left field, scoring Blum. Oliver came in to score on a wild pitch.

“In this game, and our last game, getting runs in the first inning was huge,” Blum said. “It set the tone for the game and we just kept going.”

“It felt so nice (to get an early lead),” New Palestine senior catcher Reese Rosenbaum said. “We knew we were going to jump out again and knew we needed to.”

New Pal extended its lead to 4-0 with a run in the third. Blum drew a one-out walk, stole second base and moved to third on a G-C error on Blum’s stolen base attempt. With two out, an infield single by Oliver scored Blum.

In the fifth, New Palestine upped its lead to 7-0. With one out, Ernstes was hit by a pitch. With two away, Katie Hirschy and Maddie Engle hit back-to-back singles. Ernstes scored on Engle’s hit. Rosenbaum hit a two-run single to left field to score both Hirschy and Engle.

Greenfield-Central got on the board in the sixth inning with two runs on four singles. With one out, Savvanna Riall, Charlotte Riehle and Leilani Forshey had singles, the latter scoring Riall with the first Cougar run. With two outs, Allison Hornaday singled to score courtesy runner Kolbie Wensel. Forshey moved to third on the play and Hornaday, with a throw to third base, went to second, but both were left stranded.

The Dragons put an end to the Cougars momentum in the bottom half of the frame. They got both of those runs back quickly and added one more. Gross got on with an infield single and scored on a Blum triple. Ernstes singled to left field to score Blum. Hirschy’s second single of the game drove in Ernstes with the team’s 10th run.

“When we got seven runs, I knew that we would have to keep going,” Blum said. “Greenfield doesn’t die. They have a lot of good players on their team. I knew they were going to keep trying to score, so getting those three runs was huge.”

Greenfield-Central put two more on the board in the seventh before the Dragons were able to close it out.

Addison Heacox and Kristen Wineinger each had singles and an error on a fiedler’s choice loaded the bases. With two out, Leilani Forshey doubled to knock in two runs.

The only other Cougar scoring chance came in the fourth. Riehle and Forshey hit one-out singles and moved up a base on a sacrifice bunt by Josie White, but were left stranded.

Study retired the Cougars in order in the first, second and fourth innings. Makenna Rankins had a leadoff single in the third, but Study followed with two strikeouts and a fly ball to end the inning.

Hirschy, Oliver, Blum and Gross each had two hits. Oliver, Ernstes and Rosenbaum each had two RBI. Blum scored three runs.

A three-sport standout in soccer, basketball and softball, Thursday’s sectional title was the first for Blum, who has signed to play softball at the University of Kentucky.

“This means the absolute world to me. I’m a three-sport athlete and I’ve never won a sectional before,” she said. “I’ve lost 11 sectionals and I really wanted this one and I know the team really wanted this one. This is an insane win for us. I am so proud of everybody and this could not mean more.”

It’s been a long wait for all the seniors. The Dragons have seven of them, Blum, Study, Ernstes, Rosenbaum, Oliver, Ella Holman and Nyla Lewis.

“I’m definitely excited it happened my senior year,” Study said.

Greenfield-Central does not have a senior on its team, giving head coach Gary Roberts both a lot to be proud of as well as a lot to look forward to.

Forshey had three hits and three RBI. Riehle had two hits. Seven of the nine in the starting lineup had at least one base hit in the championship game.

“I told them (pointing at the Dragons celebrating in the outfield), that could be them right out there” Roberts said. “We don’t lose anybody and our young players gained valuable experience. Take a look at that out there, (I told them) and if that’s what you want, work for it.

“We intentionally made the schedule tougher for this purpose, to play well in the sectional. We’ll learn from all of these things and we’ll carrying that over to next year and I think good things will happen for us. I truly believe that.”

Greenfield-Central ended the season 12-12.

New Palestine improved to 23-4 and will play in a regional championship game at the winner of Sectional 10, which will be either Cathedral or Lawrence North. They play their championship game on Friday.

New Palestine 10, Greenfield-Central 4

Greenfield-Central (12-12);000;002;2—;4;10;3

New Palestine (23-4);301;033;x;—;10;12;1

Madysen Herbert, Addison Heacox (6) and Charlotte Riehle; Courtney Study and Reese Rosenbaum. 2B: G-C – Leilani Forshey. NP – Allie Blum. 3B: NP – Sydney Oliver, Blum. WP: Study (14-2). LP: Herbert (5-4).