PENDLETON — In a big game you’ve got to have big plays, and New Palestine had all of them in Wednesday’s Pendleton Heights Sectional semifinal at Legends Field.

In a matchup of two of the state’s top-ranked softball teams, Class 4A No. 4 New Palestine beat No. 15 Pendleton Heights 9-0 to earn a berth into Thursday’s title game against Greenfield-Central.

New Palestine (22-4) scored six runs after two outs, relied on its defense to help pitcher Courtney Study get out of early trouble, and never let the talented Arabians — the defending sectional champions — have a chance to get back in the game.

In the first inning, Jersi Gross led off with the double and Paige Ernstes reached on an error, Sydney Oliver — who was in the middle of many of the big plays Wednesday night — gave the Dragons a 1-0 lead with a single to center field.

With two out, Maddie Engle drove in Ernstes, Oliver and herself with a long home run over the left field fence.

Leading 4-0, the Dragons had to get out of a jam in the first.

Study walked two and hit a batter to load the bases with no outs. It all started with leadoff hitter Kiah Hubble forcing 13 pitches before earning the base on balls.

Pendleton Heights cleanup hitter Kelsey Day lined a ball to Oliver in right field. She made the catch and threw a bullet to catcher Reese Rosenbaum. It held all the runners except for courtesy runner Erin Davis at second base. Davis took off to third. Rosenbaum threw to shortstop Allie Blum, who put on the tag for the second out. Skylar Baldwin grounded to second base to end the inning.

“It definitely got me off my rhythm,” Study said of the long opening at-bat, “and I already had nerves going into the first inning, but after bases loaded and Syd catches that ball and doesn’t let them score, that made me feel a lot better. Now we have two outs with bases loaded.”

That was a big start for us,” New Palestine head coach Ed Marcum said. “Syd came through with a big hit and Maddie came through with a big home run. Then we walk two, hit one and we’ve got bases loaded and nobody out. (Pitching coach) Alyssa (Dillard) went out to talk to Courtney and settled her down. She said, ‘You have to let your defense work.’ We get the hit to Syd, she makes the perfect throw home, and then we get the double play with the girl going back to second, and a pitch to get out of it. It was absolutely a turning point.”

The Dragons stretched the lead to 6-0 in the third. With one out, Ernstes reached on an infield single. Oliver reached when her fly ball was dropped in center field. With second and third and one out, Katie Hirschy drove in two with a single.

In the fourth, Gross reached on a single. Again, with two outs, the Dragons had three straight hits. Ernstes singled and Oliver hit a triple to right field. Sprinting around the bases, it appeared Oliver might try for an inside-the-park home run. She got the stop sign from Marcum at third and later came in on Hirschy’s RBI-single.

The rest of the big plays came on the defensive side.

Blum went strong to her left to stop a ball from going up the middle for a single. She fielded the grounder, and touched second base for a force out to end the inning.

With a runner on first base in the fourth, center fielder Engle made a nice catch to end the inning. After a leadoff single in the fifth, Hirschy, at first base, caught a line drive and tagged her base for a double play. Pendleton Heights’ leading hitter, Katelin Goodwin followed by hitting a ball in the right-center field gap, but Oliver ran it down and made the catch to end the inning.

“She’s just so mentally tough, and that’s what it comes down to,” Marcum said of Oliver and her performance against the Arabians. “A big game, big-time players have big-time games. Syd plays with that kind of passion and that type of energy whether it’s practice — she ran through the fence in a scrimmage — because that’s what she does. She’s just a great kid and great competitor.”

Engle dove to grab a liner for an out to start the sixth, putting an exclamation on the Dragons’ defensive performance.

All of this was to the liking of Study, who gave up only four hits, all singles. She struck out four.

Oliver finished the game 3-for-4 with three runs scored and three RBI. Hirschy had two hits and three RBI. Ernstes scored three runs. Gross had two hits and scored two runs.

A year ago, Pendleton Heights won the sectional at New Palestine, beating the Dragons in the championship game.

“We had so much intensity going in because we remember that game,” Oliver said. “This was 100 percent the most focused and intense we’ve been in a game and it really showed on the field.

“It feels great (to have a good game), especially in a game we wanted so bad. It feels great to contribute any way I can.”

Thursday’s championship game against the Cougars begins at 6 p.m. at Legends Field. The Dragons beat their Hancock County and Hoosier Heritage Conference rivals in a regular season game May 2, 16-2.

“I told the girls we haven’t won anything yet,” Marcum said. “We’ve won an opportunity to win something and that happens (Thursday) night. I’m excited for the opportunity.”

New Palestine 9, Pendleton Heights 0

New Palestine (22-4);402;300;0;—;9;13;0

Pendleton Heights (17-12);000;000;0;—;0;4;2

Courtney Study and Reese Rosenbaum; Shelby Messer and Katelin Goodwin. 2B: NP: – Jersi Gross, Allie Blum. 3B: NP – Sydney Oliver. HR: NP – Maddie Engle (7). WP: Study (13-2). LP: Messer (8-8).