Tigers down defending state champs
FT. DODGE — A strikeout started the game, and a strikeout ended it.
In between, New London pitcher Morgan Christner fanned six other batters and limited the defending state softball champions, No. 2 Martensdale-St. Mary’s, to just four hits. The tenth-ranked Tigers came up with four hits of their own, enough for a 3-2, first-round win on Monday night.
“It was really a total team effort,” New London Coach Paula Bliven said. “We had hits when we needed them, made plays when we had to ... and Morgan (Christner) was great on the mound. If we keep doing what we do, we should be in the game with anyone who steps on the field with us.”
The Tigers move on to play Class 1A No. 4 Newell-Fonda on Thursday at 11:30 a.m. on Diamond 2.
Win or lose, the Tigers will play again on Friday — either in the championship at 10 a.m. on Diamond 1, or the third-place game at 9:30 a.m. on Diamond 2.
Martensdale-St. Mary’s moves to the consolation bracket and will play again Wednesday.
In Monday’s game, Christner struck out the first batter she faced on her way to eight strikeouts on the day.
The Cardinals did manage to get runners at second and third in the first frame, but another strikeout got the Tigers out of the inning with no damage done.
Instead, it was New London that got on the board first with a run in the bottom of the opening frame.
Sami Koontz reached on an error and advanced to second on a groundout by Caitlin Chiri. Emily Parks then singled to center, driving in Koontz.
However, the Cardinals responded in the second inning, scoring two runs on as many hits.
A leadoff walk and sacrifice bunt put Kyla Morris in scoring position with one out. She stole third and scored on an error to tie the game.
Then Riley Verwers singled and stole second. Cardinal pitcher Elizabeth Gerdes doubled to switch places with her, and Martensdale-St. Mary’s took a 2-1 lead with just one out.
Parks, the New London catcher, caught Gerdes stealing second for the second out of the inning.
“They (were aggressive) early, but we finally threw them out,” Bliven said.
The Cardinals’ leadoff batter, Kylah Schumacher, lined out to Emma Pry at third to bring the Tigers back to the plate, down by one.
They couldn’t do any damage in the second inning, but in the third frame, the Tigers roared back.
Koontz walked and Christner smashed a double off the wall to bring her home. Parks singled once again to centerfield to score Kristen Allen, who was courtesy running for Christner, and the Tigers took the lead for good.
“(Parks) had a base hit past second base — it’s her signature hit,” Bliven said. “That’s what she does; she hits the ball past the infield to score runs.”
Parks, batting in the cleanup spot, leads the team with 41 RBIs this season, just ahead of Christner, the No. 3 batter, with 40.
From there on out, the game belonged to New London — Martensdale St. Mary’s didn’t even have a baserunner in the last four innings.
“Morgan really found her groove after the third inning; once she calmed down, got her nerves under control, she didn’t allow a baserunner,” Bliven said. “And the defense made plays behind her.”
The freshman pitcher had a tall order on Monday, facing one of the best lineups in the state for her first-ever state tournament game.
“It was not necessarily who she was facing, but the situation,” Bliven said. “We had a huge fan base there — there was a big crowd. And you could tell, she wasn’t as sharp; she got deep in counts and walked a couple batters.”
But when she settled down, Bliven noted, it was hard to tell that she was facing a higher caliber hitter — she looked as dominant as she has all season.
Christner limited the Cardinals’ first four batters to just two hits in the game, and fanned each one at least once. Nicole Schutt, who struck out just nine times all season, went down swinging twice against Christner.
“(After the third inning), her change-up was working, and we got some groundouts that way,” Bliven said. “Overall, they couldn’t put the bat on the ball. They were off-balance, and (Christner) was dominant.”
The Tiger hurler was not the only one who had to deal with some nerves early in the game.
“We’re a pretty loose team, but we were a little nervous,” Bliven said.
None of the New London players have participated in the state tournament before.
“We scored first, and that helps give you some confidence, and it took the pressure off both Morgan (Christner) and the hitters,” Bliven said. “They were able to settle down.”
The hitters were led by Parks, who went 2-for-3 with two runs knocked in. Christner was 1-for-3 with an RBI, and Sarah Holtkamp was 1-for-2. Koontz and Chiri each walked once. As a team, the Tigers struck out just twice.
“We put the bat on the ball all day, and we had some hard groundouts, hard lineouts — they made some good plays,” Bliven said. “But we looked sharp at the plate; I think it was the best we hit all season.”
NEW LONDON vs MARTENSDALE-ST. MARY’S
M-SM 020 000 0 — 2 4 2
New London 102 000 x — 3 4 1
WP — Morgan Christner (30-8)
LP — Elizabeth Gerdes (13-2)
New London — Sami Koontz: 0-1, BB, SAC, 2 runs. Caitlin Chiri: 0-2, BB. Christner: 1-3, 2B, RBI. Kristen Allen: 0-0, run. Emily Parks: 2-3, 2 RBI. Victoria Noel: 0-2, SAC. Sarah Holtkamp: 1-2.
Steals — Parks and Chiri.
M-SM — Katrina Devore: 0-2, BB. Nicole Schutt: 1-3. Jamie Jordan: 1-2. Vicki Kordick: 0-2, BB. Kyla Moris: 0-0, run. Gentry Davidson: 0-2, SAC. Riley Verwers: 1-3, run. Gerdes: 1-2, 2B, RBI.
Steals — Jordan, Morris, Verwers and Schutt.