By Heather Bremer
For The Herald Bulletin
PENDLETON, Ind. —
Pendleton Heights held off a late-inning charge from Lapel to advance to the championship game of the Madison County Softball Tournament today at 4 p.m. at Legends Field.
The Arabians, who defeated the Bulldogs 11-5, will face Elwood, which beat Alexandria 8-7 to advance and will be making its first title game appearance.
PH coach Rob Davis expects his squad to be ready to roll, despite relinquishing five runs in the final two innings Friday night.
“We’ll be ready at 4 o’clock tomorrow,” Davis said. “The cold weather tonight, a big lead early, they kind of started coasting. But they’ll be ready.”
Pendleton Heights appeared well on its way to yet another title game in the early going. The Arabians took a 1-0 lead in the first without getting a hit. Sarah Dixon led off with a walk, advanced on a sacrifice, stole a base and then slipped in to score behind Lapel’s catcher as she gunned down Delilah Wright at first.
PH senior Elizabeth Sigler launched a two-run home run over the left-center field fence in the second inning, plating Morgan Hubble for a 3-0 lead. With pitcher Brooke Wendling keeping the Bulldogs off balance, the Arabians added three more runs in the fourth on three hits, including a double by Hubble.
“We have a tendency to start off a little slow sometimes,” Lapel coach Scott Rich said. “That’s a good team. I knew it would be. I told the girls on the way here and the last two or three days, that’s probably one of if not the best team we’ll play all year. We knew that coming into it, and they’re strong.”
Leading 6-0, Pendleton Heights was poised to slam the door in the fifth. Lapel’s Kirsten Rich — pitching out of necessity — gave up two walks to lead off the inning. Her first free pass, Kyndall Disroon, was caught stealing, but Rich then surrendered a single to Hubble, followed by a walk to Sigler that loaded the bases. Alexandra Slick’s single pushed Bailey Benefiel, Rich’s second walk, home.
Rich may have been able to staunch the PH offense there, but a fielding error at shortstop allowed Sydney Windlan to reach first and scored Hubble from third. Breanna Pryor took advantage of Lapel’s mistake, hitting a single to score Sigler, give Pendleton a 9-0 lead and keep the bases loaded.
Rich, however, denied the Arabians the final run they needed to end the game by 10-run rule in the fifth. PH couldn’t get that run in the six, either, leaving the door open for Lapel.
“I thought Rich threw a great game for Lapel,” Davis said. “There for awhile, maybe into the fifth inning, we only had four or five hits, and I thought she did a great job.”
Hannah Harless got the Bulldogs’ bats going in the sixth. The freshman started the Lapel comeback with a home run, which was followed by a Rich walk. Rich eventually scored on a Daniele Burnell single, cutting the Arabians’ lead to 9-2.
“That’s a big lift,” coach Rich said of Harless’ home run. “When you’ve got games like that and it seems like you can’t put the ball in play, as soon as they see one girl do it, it’s contagious.”
Pendleton Heights added a pair of insurance runs in the seventh and took an 11-2 lead into the bottom of the final frame. PH pitcher Madison Fowler, in relief of Wendling, gave up three runs on a combination of singles and errors. With the bases loaded, Davis lifted Fowler for Wendling, who retired the next two batters and ended the threat.
The return to Wendling shouldn’t hurt the Arabians in today’s championship game. She’ll serve as backup to Benefiel, who Davis was able to keep off the mound Friday. And the PH coach was actually glad to get Fowler some innings and his infield some work during her struggles.
“It was nice to see someone put the ball in play so we could have to play just to see what we could do,” Davis said.
Lapel will face Alexandria in the third-place game at Pendleton Heights at 2 p.m. Rich said the Bulldogs can’t give the Tigers the second chances they afforded the Arabians.
“You can’t give good teams outs. We had no less than probably six outs we just gave them tonight. Six extra opportunities, you can’t do that against good teams,” Rich said. “So we’ve got to tighten up our defense a little bit. We’re a good hitting team, we just haven’t been showing it as of late. Our hitting will come around but we’ve got to tighten up on defense.”