Postseason Powerhouse: Dragons showing ‘Tournament Mentality’

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Dropping three of their final five regular-season games, New Palestine’s softball team wasn’t heading into the Pendleton Heights Sectional with the same momentum it had for the majority of the season.

The Dragons won their first 10 games before losing to No. 11 Roncalli and won another seven in a row before a bumpy ride in the middle of May. They lost to No. 10 Crown Point, were shut out by Plainfield and dropped an extra-inning game to Avon.

Long-time head coach Ed Marcum comes up with a different slogan for his team each season. This year it is ‘Tournament Mentality.’

Ranked No. 4 in the state, New Palestine (25-4) had that mentality much of the season and regained it right in the nick of time.

Once the postseason started the Dragons looked like the team that had the two long winning streaks and were starting to resemble clubs Marcum helped lead to six state championships.

This year’s senior group won their first sectional championship and have been winning games throughout the postseason in dominant fashion. They are 6-0 in postseason play and have outscored opponents 72-7. And, it’s not just any opponent, they have victories over No. 15 Pendleton Heights (9-0), No. 3 Cathedral (12-1) and No. 5 Center Grove (14-2).

They’ll look for one more on Friday when they play No. 12 Hamilton Southeastern (24-4) at Purdue University’s Bittinger Stadium for the Class 4A state title.

“It just means so much, especially to the seniors,” all-state senior right fielder Sydney Oliver said. “We fell short three years in a row (in the sectional) and then at the end of the season it was a little rocky. We were losing games we shouldn’t lose. We had so many team meetings and really locked in on our mindset for the games. We really showed it in the sectional and it has kept going throughout (the postseason).

“Our slogan this year is ‘Tournament Mentality’ and we’re just focusing on the team aspect. If you have a bad game it doesn’t matter as long as we win. (We had to get back to) really focusing on playing together and staying hype in the dugout. We went through a time where we were kind of quiet, but we broke through and are insanely loud now.”

Three of the team’s six wins have been shutouts, including an avenging 6-0 win over Avon in the semi-state semifinals. Most of the runs against them came in one game, the sectional title game against Greenfield-Central, but those runs were late when the Dragons already had big leads. New Pal beat its county rival 10-4 and had 7-0 and 10-2 leads.

Against No. 3 Cathedral, the Fighting Irish scored a first-inning run to tie the game, 1-1. The Dragons went on to end the game in five innings, with a run each in the second and third innings, three in the fourth and six in the fifth.

“I said after the Avon game (a 7-6 extra-inning loss) we’re not losing another game. This is our last one of the season,” all-state senior shortstop Allie Blum said. “We have seven seniors on our team and I think every single person on this team is pulling for us and pulling for the seniors. Our seniors want it so bad and our whole team wants it so bad. I think when we lost to Avon that really clicked and we all decided we weren’t going to lose another game. Now we have a chance to play for a state championship at Purdue.”

New Palestine is seeking a seventh state championship, which would tie the state record for softball titles with Center Grove. It would be New Palestine’s first in Class 4A. The six previous titles were in Class 3A, including consecutive crowns from 2017-19. The other titles were in 2004, 2007 and 2008. The Dragons were state runners-up in Class 2A in 2003.

“I think a huge thing was our saying at the beginning of the year, ‘Tournament Mentality,’” senior left fielder Ella Holman said. “That’s been a huge thing for us and being in that mindset. We were falling a little short at the end of the regular season and we’ve been bringing it back in postseason, especially our hitting. Our offense has been really good, and our defense has been locked down.”

Eight of nine in the starting batting order are hitting over .300 in tournament games and seven are hitting over .400. Pitcher Courtney Study has a .90 earned run average and has five of the six victories.

“We struggled a little bit down the stretch, but I think their focus was the postseason and that’s what they’ve been able to do,” Marcum said. “I felt like at the end of the year we just weren’t quite as focused. It wasn’t necessarily senioritis but with seven seniors, they’ve got a lot going on.

“I think they were ready to focus on the postseason. At the end of the season we struggled scoring runs like we normally score, but once we got to the postseason, the seniors’ experience, we’ve relied on them, and Courtney have been outstanding. It’s team. They pull together. They play hard together. They love each other. It’s just really exciting.”

2024 IHSAA Softball State Finals

Site: Bittinger Stadium, Purdue University, 1324 McCormick Road, West Lafayette

Admission: All tickets will be digital through your mobile phone and may be purchased through Eventlink (additional fees may apply). No cash. Present your purchase verification on your mobile phone at the gate for admission. $15 per person. Children age 5 and younger admitted free. All seats general admission. No pass outs.

Gates Open: Gates open to spectators 90 minutes before the start of the first game each day. Due to anticipated large crowds, admission gates may close prior to the second game of the night until Game 1 is over. Please be patient as spectators exit from the previous game. Spectators are also encouraged to bring lawn chairs and blankets to sit on the hill overlooking center and right field.

Streaming: All four state championship games will stream exclusively at IHSAAtv.org via pay-per-view for $15 per game or $20 for all games.

Home Team: The winner of the northern semi-state is the designated home team in each game. The home team shall occupy the third base dugout.

Friday, June 7

Class 2A State Championship, 5:30 p.m.

Cascade (29-2) vs. Lapel (24-5)

Class 4A State Championship, 8 p.m.

New Palestine (25-4) vs. Hamilton Southeastern (24-4)

Saturday, June 8

Class 1A State Championship, 4:30 p.m.

Tecumseh (24-9) vs. Rossville (27-3)

Class 3A State Championship, 7 p.m.

Tri-West Hendricks (28-6) vs. Western (28-2)