All season long, the New Palestine softball team has spoken of “making payments.”
Every practice, every game, the Dragons paid a little bit in hard work to cash in on a big purchase at the end of the season – the IHSAA state championship trophy.
The top-ranked Dragons cashed those payments in Saturday, capping a historic season with another offensive explosion in a 13-6 victory over Kankakee Valley. The Dragons shattered several state and State Finals records with the victory to cap a 31-2 season.
NP broke the game open with an eight-run fourth inning that was keyed by Ashley Prange’s three-run homer. The frame put the Dragons up 10-2. Kankakee Valley closed the lead to five after six, but NP added two more runs in the seventh to stretch the lead.
The victory clinched the fourth state title in school history – joining championships won in 2004, 2008 and 2009.
“I’m speechless. It’s amazing,” Dragon senior pitcher Elisha Barker said. “It’s a life-long goal we’ve all worked for. I’m happy I could experience it with this team. We’re so close – it’s like a second family. It’s an amazing experience.”
In addition to being the winning pitcher, Barker was named the Mental Attitude Award winner.
The Dragons took an early lead in the second when Mary Crumlin and Emma Tucher had back-to-back hits and scored on Abby Davis’ two-out single, but Kankakee Valley responded with a two-out, two-run double in the bottom of the third to tie the game.
“It was interesting to see how we were going to respond,” coach Ed Marcum said. “The girls came out and just did unbelievably.”
They did so with an eight-run rally that broke the game open and gave NP a 10-2 lead. Michaela Jones and Mary Crumlin led off with hits. Emma Tucher followed with a sacrifice bunt and reached on an errant throw to first, on which Jones scored the go-ahead run. Tatum Biddle’s sacrifice fly plated Crumlin – who was beaten by the throw home but slid around the tag – to put NP up 4-2.
After a walk to Abby Davis put two runners on, Prange blasted a pitch over the left-centerfield fence for her state-record 21st homer of the year. More importantly, the three-run blast gave the Dragons a 7-2 edge. The homer also set another state record, as the three RBI gave her 67 for the year, breaking the state record set by Michelle Marcum – now an assistant coach with the Dragons – in 2010.
NP wasn’t finished. Emily O’Connor singled and scored on a single by Barker. Jones doubled to the centerfield fence to plate TeTe Hart – Barker’s courtesy runner – and then Crumlin followed with an RBI double to give NP an eight-run lead.
“They did a great job getting on base and setting the table for Ashley’s home run,” coach Marcum said. “Michelle was very excited her record was broken in that situation. We just kept going with it – and that’s what we’ve done all year. The depth we have, we’ve been able to keep going and keep hitting, so we can put up eight runs in an inning.”
The Dragons plated another run in the fifth when Tatum Biddle reached on an error and scored on a single by Madison Whitaker and a bobble by the rightfielder.
KV cut the lead to 11-6 by scoring twice each in the fifth and sixth – both times scoring unearned runs with two outs. Barker was able to pitch out of a jam in the fifth by garnering a strikeout with runners on the corners and two outs to stem KV’s momentum. However, NP was able to add two more runs in the seventh – Biddle singled, Prange walked and O’Connor reached on an error to load the bases. A wild pitch scored the first run, while Prange scored on Whitaker’s RBI single to make it 13-6.
Pitching with a lead for much of the game gave the Dragon defense – and Barker – confidence to maintain the cushion.
“It gives me so much more confidence,” Barker said. “I know my defense is always going to be there for me, so I know if I do my job and hit my spots, they’re going to be there.”
KV had two one-out hits in the seventh, but Prange snared a popup and O’Connor grabbed a grounder to third and fired across the diamond to Crumlin to seal the championship.
The Dragons had a State Finals-record 17 hits in the victory. Prange was 3-for-4 with a homer and three RBI. Davis was 2-for-4 with two RBI and two runs. O’Connor was 2-for-5 with a run. Whitaker was also 2-for-5 with an RBI. Jones was 2-for-5 with two runs and an RBI. Crumlin was 3-for-4 with two runs and two doubles. Tucher, Biddle and Barker all had hits.
The Dragons were able to have several long hits – NP had four extra-base hits in the game – but also several well-placed hits that fell just past infielders.
“A day like today with the wind going out, they had to play us so deep that a few of our mishits end up blooping in, but that’s because we hit the ball so well, they have to play deep,” Marcum said. “Overall, the girls played well. We stayed with it and we did a great job.”
Barker scattered 12 hits and allowed two earned runs in earning her 22nd pitching victory of the year, and the biggest of her career.
“She battled the whole day and just really hung tough,” Marcum said. “She just went with what was given her, and we made some big defensive plays when we needed to.”
The result was continuing a Dragon tradition with a fourth state championship.
Barker was chosen as the Mental Attitude Award winner, the highest individual honor given by the IHSAA.
“It’s a huge thank you. I’m happy I could win it for my school,” Barker said.
Notes: The Dragons set multiple State Finals records. The team’s 17 hits set a 3A record and tied the overall State Finals record set in 2001 by Roncalli. The 29 combined hits by both teams set 3A and overall State Finals record. The Dragons’ seven hits in the fourth inning tied a 3A State Finals record for hits in an inning set by the 2009 Dragons in a 10-0 win over Andrean. The 13 runs in a game broke a 3A record – set by the 2009 Dragons – and tied the overall State Finals record held by two teams. The 19 combined runs broke the 3A and overall records. The Dragons had 10 RBI, the most in 3A – again breaking a record of nine set by NP in 2009 – and the most in the class era. Mary Crumlin’s two doubles tied a State Finals record held by several players. Ashley Prange’s homer tied a state championship game record held by several players. … In addition, the Dragons added to their state records for most hits (480), runs (383) and homers (57) in a season. Fifteen of the homers came in the state tournament. Prange finished the year as the state recordholder with 21 single-season homers and 67 RBI – the latter breaking a record of 65 held by Michelle Marcum. Prange also scored twice, giving her a state-leading 59 for the year. Abby Davis was second in the state with 56 runs scored. … Emily O’Connor, Abby Davis and Ashley Prange all finished the year with 27 game hit streaks. Prange also finished the year having scored in 27 consecutive games. … New Palestine has won four softball state titles, second-most in state history. Only Center Grove (6) has won more. Ed Marcum has coached all four championship teams. … The Dragons finished the year 31-2, the most wins in school history. … Barker is the third New Palestine softball player and fourth NPHS athlete to be chosen an IHSAA Mental Attitude Award winner, joining Alyssa Marcum (2008) and Sara Evans (2009) in softball and Alex Neligh (2015) in football. … The state title is the sixth team title in NPHS history. The Dragons have won softball titles in 2004, 2008, 2009 and 2017, a baseball title in 2004 and a football championship in 2014.