Defense buoys Tigers in extra-inning win
FT. DODGE — Through eight nerve-wracking innings, the New London defense stayed strong.
The Tiger softball team didn’t allow a single run in yesterday’s state tournament semifinal game against Class 1A fourth-ranked Newell-Fond. No matter how many times the Mustangs threatened to score, New London held them off into extra innings for a 1-0 win.
“We talked all along about how defense has gotten us where we are,” New London Coach Duane Blint said.
Where they are is in the state championship game.
The Class 1A No. 10 Tigers face top-ranked Akron-Westfield in the championship game, which was to start at 10 a.m. today.
A win would mean that the Tigers pulled off four straight upsets to end the season: they defeated No. 7 Earlham to qualify for state, took down No. 2 Martensdale-St. Mary’s in the first-round state tournament game on Monday, and their latest upset was yesterday’s victory over Newell-Fonda.
“It was (a nailbiter), but we didn’t quit,” Blint said. “They had runners in scoring position in quite a few innings, but our defense just didn’t quit.”
The Mustangs had runners at second or third in five different innings.
It started in the third inning when Newell-Fonda’s Renee Maneman, the team’s leadoff hitter and the state leader in stolen bases, swiped second and third before a grounder to third base ended the inning.
“We knew that their first two or three hitters were the ones we had to keep off the bases,” Blint said.
The Mustangs have a lot of speed at the top of their order, led by Maneman. She now has 78 steals on the season.
She ended up adding three to her total in yesterday’s game against New London, but the Tigers were expecting it.
“Maneman stole her bases, but we didn’t want that to rattle us,” Blint said. “We kept our composure well.”
In the fourth, the Mustangs’ Sydney Kay stood on third base, but Emma Pry got another grounder at the hot corner for the third out.
A Newell-Fonda runner got to second in the fifth inning, and again in seventh.
The Mustangs threatened one final time in the last frame, but couldn’t do any damage.
All game, the New London defense made some big plays to shut them down.
Shortstop Jorgi Krieger made a key catch in the third inning, diving to snag a ball in the shallow infield.
“We all thought it would hit the ground,” Blint said. “Then Jorgi (Krieger) comes out of nowhere to make a diving catch.”
Then there were the throws that Pry made from third to first, all right on target.
“Three or four times she had to go third to first, and with runners on, one bad throw scores a run,” Blint said.
And finally, in the seventh inning, there was Ashley Davey’s stretch for a line drive that almost certainly would have scored a run.
“She just snow-coned it,” Blint said. “It was a line drive right up the (first base) line, and she’s not that tall, but she just reached up as far as she could and snow-coned it. We had (right fielder) Sami Koontz playing more right-centerfield, and so if that gets through, the runner on second scores for sure.”
But of course, none of the Newell-Fonda runners were able to cross the plate in the eight-inning contest.
“Everyone stepped up when we needed it,” Blint said.
That includes the New London hitters.
They struggled early, getting just one hit through the first four innings — Christner’s single in the opening frame.
Josten Boyer had a hit in the fifth inning, but the Tigers left pinch runner Dani Holt stranded at third; Emma Pry then singled in the sixth, but again, no runs scored.
“For a while, it was definitely a pitchers’ duel,” Blint said. “We knew their pitcher (Maneman) wasn’t bad, and she proved that. But Morgan (Christner) stayed strong, and got it done on the mound.”
Christner finished with four hits, two walks and six strikeouts in eight innings pitched.
It was the bottom of the eighth frame when the Tigers put together a pair of hits to end the game.
“We couldn’t have been in a better situation,” Blint said. “We got to the top of the order, and then (Caitlin Chiri) had a base hit and went to second on a wild pitch — probably the only one of the game.”
With only one out, the Tigers had Christner up to bat and Emily Parks on deck; going into yesterday’s game, the pair led the team with 81 runs driven in between them.
Then, against Newell-Fonda, Christner added another RBI to her total — perhaps her most important RBI of the season.
“Morgan (Christner) had struggled in her first couple at-bats, but we told her to keep her bottom hand strong and follow it all the way though,” Blint said.
Christner pounded a hit to deep right-centerfield, allowing Chiri to score from second for the walk-off win.
As a result, the Tigers find themselves in the state championship game.
“We’ve been flying under the radar this year,” Blint said. “But everyone knows who we are now.”
NEW LONDON vs.NEWELL-FONDA
Newell-Fonda 000 000 00 — 0 4 2
New London 000 000 01 — 1 5 1
WP — Morgan Christner (31-8)
LP — Renee Maneman (24-4)
New London — Sami Koontz: 0-2, 2 BB. Caitlin Chiri: 1-3, SAC, run. Christner: 2-4, 2B, RBI. Emma Pry: 1-3. Josten Boyer: 1-3.
Steals — Koontz, Holt.
Newell-Fonda — Maneman: 1-3, BB. Jade Hess: 0-3, BB. Taylor Lago: 1-3. 2B. Missy Morenz: 0-2, SAC. Mackenzi Mandernach: 1-3. Taiyler Schrank: 1-3. Andrea Christiansen: 0-2, SAC.
Steals — Maneman (3).