Tigers aim to stop speedy Mustangs
FT. DODGE — New London got through its hard-hitting opponent in the first round of the state softball tournament.
In their next challenge, the Tigers will face a speedy foe.
Class 1A fourth-ranked Newell-Fonda (36-6) is aggressive on the basepaths, a fact that has not gone unnoticed by the 10th-ranked Tigers.
Catcher Emily Parks will have her arm put to the test against the Mustangs, who have the most stolen bases in Class 1A (203 in the regular season) and are second across the state.
They are led on the basepaths by junior Renee Maneman with 72 steals. Freshman Jordan Wilken has 36 on the season and freshman Sydney Kay has 23. Four other Mustangs are in double figures in that category.
On Monday, in their first-round tournament game, the Mustangs stole four bases on Remsen St. Mary’s and were caught once.
The Mustangs won the contest by a score of 14-1 to advance to the semifinal game against New London on Thursday.
“We know they won big, but there were a lot of errors, so it’s hard to tell much from that game,” New London Coach Paula Bliven said. “We didn’t get to see them play, so all we can do is look at their stats. We’ve just got to play our game.”
Remsen St. Mary’s committed eight errors in Monday’s four-inning game, leading to 11 unearned runs for the Mustangs, who pounded out 11 hits and took advantage of their opportunities to score at least two runs in each inning.
The Tigers aim to keep the Mustangs’ offense under control with clean fielding and solid pitching — and hope that will prevent them from using their speed.
“We’ve noticed that they have a lot of stolen bases,” New London Coach Duane Blint said. “Our goal is to keep them off the bases — you have to be on to steal.”
It’s a goal they’ve been meeting all season, as Tiger pitcher Morgan Christner has sat down 368 batters on strikes, and the New London defense has committed just 41 errors in 40 games — the fourth-lowest total in Class 1A and the second-lowest average.
“The key tomorrow (Thursday) will be Morgan (Christner) hitting her spots,” Blint said. “Emily (Parks) will have to be ready to go back there (behind the plate), and the middle infield, too — they’re fully aware that Newell-Fonda likes to steal.
“But we’re hoping that with Morgan (Christner)’s pitching and good defense, they won’t be getting on base,” he continued. “As far as hitting, looking at the stats, they’re not as good as Martensdale-St. Mary’s.”
The Mustangs had a team batting average of .325 during the regular season this year, just a few points behind New London’s .338.
Their on-base and slugging percentages are also comparable, with the Mustangs reaching base at a 4.16 clip (compared to New London’s .411) and slugging .411 (behind New London’s .439 percentage).
On average, Newell-Fonda has scored nearly eight runs a game this year, compared to the Tigers, who average almost seven.
Leading Newell-Fonda at the plate is Maneman with a .504 average, .664 slugging percentage and .584 OBP.
Everyone else in the Mustangs’ lineup is batting under .400, with a slugging percentage and OBP under .500.
Maneman was the Mustangs’ leadoff hitter against Remsen St. Mary’s, going 2-for-3 with a walk and four runs scored.
It was sophomore Brianna Wells who led the team at the plate in the game, going 2-for-2 with an inside-the-park home run and a triple, as well as a walk, two runs scored and one knocked in.
Junior Jade Hess, cleanup batter and designated hitter on Monday, leads the team with 44 RBIs this season, followed closely by senior Taylor Lago with 40. Lago is batting .357 this season with a .452 OBP and .480 slugging percentage, second on the team in all three categories.
As a team, the Mustangs have 200 strikeouts on the season, a few more than New London’s 179. Maneman has proven to be the toughest Mustang to sit down on strikes — she’s been fanned a team-low 11 times in a team-high 125 at-bats.
Already this season, the Mustangs have experienced a game against a a top-caliber pitcher – they have faced one of the best strikeout pitchers in the state: Exira-EKH’s Rachel Smith, a sophomore who is just behind Christner in the state totals with 361 strikeouts.
Christner upped her season total to 368 with Monday’s game.
She is leading Class 1A in total strikeouts and is second in the state. Christner is just 12 behind Lawton-Bronson’s Lexi Binder, who is competing in the Class 2A tournament.
Against Smith, the Mustangs went down on strikes nine times during their July 15 game, but still came up with a 5-1 win.
So along with Christner, the Tiger defense and bats will have to be ready to go.
“We had one of our best games (at the plate) against Martensdale-St. Mary’s,” Blint said. “The key is to put the ball in play, and to get runners in scoring position.”
New London hitters will likely face Maneman on the mound — she is 24-3 this season with an ERA of 1.63 over 167 2/3 innings.
She has 189 strikeouts and has issued 21 walks.
“She has quite a few strikeouts and not a lot of walks, so we’ve got to put the ball in play,” Blint said.
Freshman Jordan Wilken also saw 14 starts on the mound this year for the Mustangs; she is 12-2 with an ERA of 2.86 over 76 innings pitched. She has fanned 57 batters and walked 27.
But no matter who they’re facing, the New London game plan remains the same: “We’ve got to play our game; we don’t want to change anything,” Blint said. “Morgan (Christner) will have to be strong, and the hitters will have to be disciplined.”
The Tigers’ game starts at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday at Diamond 2 in Ft. Dodge’s Rodgers Park.
“We’re excited for the opportunity,” Blint said.