Tigers top WACO, move within one game of state
DANVILLE — The New London softball team continued its domination on the diamond with an 11-0 win over WACO on Friday night to move within one game of the state tournament.
The Class 1A 10th-ranked Tigers, now 29-9 on the season, will have to get through No. 7 Earlham tonight (Monday) at 7 p.m. in Pella in order to advance to state.
Earlham (29-7) defeated Twin Cedars (24-9) by a score of 11-1 on Friday to earn a spot in the regional final.
Meanwhile, the Tigers used another outstanding pitching performance — Morgan Christner threw a no-hitter — and patience at the plate to defeat the Warriors.
“The key (to the win over WACO) was staying patient in the box,” New London Coach Paula Bliven said. “They handled us the first few innings, but we kept the pressure on them.”
The teams were scoreless through the second inning. Christner struck out the first five batters she faced on her way to 12 in the game, while WACO played clean defense early in the contest.
However, WACO’s defense faltered in the later innings, committing six errors in the last four frames — including three in the third inning, when New London took a 4-0 lead. The Tigers then scored two more in the fourth inning and tacked on another five in the fifth for their total.
“Our biggest struggle was making routine plays — it’s been our problem all year long,” WACO Coach Shannon Rugg said. “If we make our routine plays, it’s not 11-0.”
The New London defense was flawless — but of course, it only had three plays to make.
Emma Pry caught a pop up at third in the third inning, and Caitlin Chiri scooped up a grounder at second in the fourth, tossing it to Ashley Davey at first for an out. Pry made another catch at third for the final out of the game. Every other WACO out was a strikeout.
“They’re a good team — that’s why they had the year they had, and why they’re one game away from state,” Rugg said about the Tigers. “They hit the ball, have good pitching and have good defense behind their pitching.”
Even though the Tigers don’t have to make a lot of plays in the field, Christner believes that when they have to, they’ll come through.
“I know I have good defense behind me,” she said, noting that it gives her confidence on the mound.
But even when there are fielding errors or walks — like the four she issued on Friday — the freshman pitcher is not easily rattled.
“She does a great job keeping her head,” Bliven said. “Her mental composure is so far above (most pitchers her age); she doesn’t get frazzled.”
That will be a big asset as competition gets tougher — particularly tonight, as the Tigers face Earlham with a trip to state on the line.
Earlham is led at the plate by Abby Murphy, who is batting .491 with eight home runs on the season. She’s also one of the team’s pitchers, and is the only returner that made the all-tournament team when Earlham took second at state last season.
The Cardinals have a couple other power hitters in the lineup, and have blasted 18 homers as a team this season.
Overall, however, Earlham has a team batting average similar to New London’s. The teams had only one mutual opponent this season: Tigers defeated PCM, 5-4, and Earlham lost, 7-5.
“We really just need to worry about us,” Bliven said. “If we play our game, it’s our game to win, and that’s what we told the girls. We have played and beat teams better than Earlham; it’s just a matter of putting it all together tonight.”
The Tigers are aiming to maintain their solid defense, but also hope to get runs on the board earlier in the game.
“We have talked about being the team to set the tone early — we always get hits, but sometimes not until the fifth, sixth, seventh innings,” Bliven said.
“I definitely think we need to keep the bats going (against Earlham),” Christner said. “I’ll have to work on my off-speed pitches and hit my spots. I think we’ll be fine, as long as we keep our nerves under control.”
WACO ends its season with a record of 10-21, and Rugg sums up the season in one word: “fun.”
But while having a good time on the field, the team also showed a lot of of improvement across the board.
“From where we started to where we finished, there was a lot of improvement from every single kid,” Rugg said.
With the loss on Friday, the Warriors said goodbye to two graduated seniors that ended their high school athletic careers: Sara Conwell and Morgan Dugger.
Both played key roles for the Warriors this season — Conwell was the pitcher and Dugger was the catcher.
“They are great kids — we won’t replace them,” Rugg said. “We don’t have anybody as good as either one of them (to play at pitcher and catcher next year); we will just change our focus.”
WACO vs. NEW LONDON
New London 004 25 — 11
WACO 000 00 — 0
WP — Morgan Christner
LP — Sara Conwell
New London — Sami Koontz: 1-4, 2 runs. Caitlin Chiri: 1-3, 2B, BB, 2 runs. Christner: 1-3, 2B, BB. Kristen Allen: 0-0, run. Emily Parks: 2-3, 2B, BB. Emma Pry: 0-3, BB. Victoria Noel: 1-4, run. Jorgi Krieger: 0-3, run. Josten Boyer: 1-3, 2B, 2 runs. Sarah Holtkamp: 1-2, BB, 2 runs.
Steals — Chiri, Allen and Holtkamp.
WACO — Morgan Dugger: 0-2, BB. Conwell: 0-1, BB. Libby Skriver: 0-1, BB. Cierra McArtor: 0-1, BB.