Tigers punch ticketNew London softball team advances to state with win over Earlham
PELLA — Their hitting was timely, their pitching was formidable and their defense was sparkling. But most of all, their nerves were unshakable.
The 10th-ranked New London softball team scored first and held on through a late push to upset No. 7 Earlham, 3-1, in the Class 1A Region 6 final on Monday night. With the win, the Tigers punched their ticket to the state tournament in Ft. Dodge.
The Tigers waved their state qualifier banner after the game, many knowing all to well how it feels to be on the losing end of the regional final — the Tigers were just one game short of state last season. Caitlin Chiri, the team’s only senior, has felt the sting of defeat twice, as the team fell in the final during her eighth-grade year as well.
But those feelings were distant memories last night as the team celebrated its win, and now prepares to face No. 2 Martensdale-St. Mary’s in the opening round of the tournament on Monday, June 22.
In last night’s game, as it has been all season, the Tigers’ hitting was contagious, and they used that to their advantage, scoring all three runs in the third inning.
“We just had timely hits,” Coach Paula Bliven said.
Sarah Holtkamp walked to start the inning, and then came leadoff batter Sami Koontz, who sacrificed her to second. Chiri then hit an RBI double to deep left field for the Tigers’ first run of the game.
But New London was just getting started. Christner doubled to deep center to trade places with Chiri, and Emily Parks was hit by a pitch to put runners at first and second.
A strikeout had the Tigers down to their last out of the inning when Victoria Noel reached on an error — the Earlham shortshop misplayed a popup at the edge of the grass.
Meanwhile, Kristen Allen, pinch runner for Christner, took off from second and managed to get across the plate before the Cardinals could recover, scoring what would be the Tigers’ final run of the game.
Earlham got one back in the fourth and threatened to do a lot more damage in the sixth.
“The key (to the win) was keeping our composure in the sixth inning,” Bliven said. “We’re a young squad, but it didn’t show.”
Earlham started the sixth with the top of the order. The leadoff batter popped out to third, but a bunt single and an error by New London put runners at first and second with one out and brought hitter Abbey Murphy to the plate. Murphy, who has led the team this season with a .491 batting average, did some damage in the fourth inning when her big hit gave the Cardinals their only run.
This time, she wouldn’t get a pitch that she liked, and she walked to load the bases. With the pressure on, Emma Pry fielded a grounder at third and got the force out at home, and then shortstop Jorgi Krieger survived a tough hop on a grounder to get the final out of the inning.
Krieger would make two more tough plays in the seventh — she grabbed a grounder up the middle for the first out of the inning and reached back to make the catch in shallow left field that ended the game and netted the Tigers their first trip to state since 2007, when they were runners up.
“Our fielders did make some really good plays,” Bliven said.
And overall, Christner shut the Cardinals down.
She allowed just four hits, all singles, walked two batters and struck out nine in the complete game effort. Six different Tigers had one hit each.
For the full state tournament schedule, click here.
EARLHAM vs. NEW LONDON
New London 003 000 0 — 3
Earlham 000 100 0 — 1
WP — Christner
New London — Sami Koontz: 1-1, BB, 2 SAC. Caitlin Chiri: 1-3, 2B, SAC, RBI, run. Christner: 1-4, 2B, RBI. Emily Parks: 1-2, BB, HBP. Josten Boyer: 1-3. Sarah Holtkamp: 1-2, BB, run. Kristen Allen: 0-0, run. Steals — Parks.