- Val T.
Lady Comets rely on big first inning in semistate final win over Cowan
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
Caston Comets Semi-State Champions front row L-R Addison Zippleman, Annie Harsh, Kinzie Mollenkopf, Bailey Harness, Alexa Finke Back Row L-R Coach Greg Zippleman, Ely Blacketor, Kylee Logan, Avery Baldwin, Myli Rude, Makena Middleton, Ashlyn Bailey, Isabel Scales, Macee Hinderlider, Haley Logan, Coach Samantha Schanlaub, Coach Burks
FRANKFORT — The historically good Caston softball team was already one of one. And they are not yet done.
Kinzie Mollenkopf keyed a three-run top of the first inning with an RBI single, and Macee Hinderlider and Addison Zimpleman had back-to-back RBI hits in the fourth to lead the No. 7 Lady Comets to a 5-3 win over Cowan in the Class 1A semistate final at Frankfort High School Saturday.
Caston junior Alexa Finke lays down an RBI sacrifice bunt to give her team a 3-0 lead in the first inning of the Class 1A Frankfort semistate final against Cowan Saturday night. Caston would go on to win 5-3 for their first semistate title in school history. (photo provided by Dee Brown/RTC)
The win improved Caston’s record to 22-4 and elevated the Lady Comets to their first ever state finals appearance in any team sport.
The game ended with Cowan’s Aryonna Bynum grounding out to Mollenkopf at second base, who threw to Annie Harsh at first base to set off a celebration in the middle of the diamond as coach Jon Burks raised his arms to the Caston fan section along the third baseline before sharing an embrace with assistant coach Samantha Schanlaub.
“I don’t know,” Burks said. “I’m really speechless about it. I don’t know. It’s awesome. I’m so happy for the girls, for the community of Fulton, the Caston School Corporation. We’re making history. The only thing we can do is cap it off with a cherry on the cake and go down to Purdue and get it.”
Junior shortstop Isabel Scales beamed afterwards.
“Amazing, unreal, so many emotions I can’t even talk about,” Scales said. “Tomorrow morning, it still won’t feel real.”
A community’s long wait to have a team in the state spotlight was finally over.
“It’s just incredible,” Mollenkopf said. “I never would have expected ever that we would have gotten to just go and play. The Lord has blessed us, and this family is just incredible. I just thank coach Burks every day for having us ready for this game. He’s just our biggest supporter, so it’s just crazy.”
After a giddy postgame on-field celebration with friends, family and community members, a police-and-fire-truck caravan began that wended through Logansport, Fulton, Twelve Mile, Grass Creek, Kewanna and all corners of the Caston school district before heading through downtown Rochester and back to the Comet Crater for a pep rally that began at 11:45 p.m.
Caston had already twice made history during their tournament run. They won their first sectional softball title with a 4-1 win over Southwood on May 25, and they won their first regional title in any team sport five days later when they clubbed Fremont 20-1 in five innings.
Now the Lady Comets will play top-ranked Tecumseh in the state title game at 4:30 p.m. this Saturday at Purdue University’s Bittinger Stadium. Tecumseh will be making their 10th state title game appearance. Only Center Grove, New Palestine and Roncalli have won more than the four state titles that Tecumseh has won.
Caston led 5-2 going into the bottom of the seventh. Mollenkopf, pitching her 14th inning of the day after pitching a one-hitter against Kouts earlier in the semifinals, struck out Josie Byrd with catcher Kylee Logan digging the ball out of the dirt and throwing to Annie Harsh at first for the first out.
Then things got complicated. Cheyenne Carter chopped a single up the middle, and No. 9 batter Jenna Current walked.
Burks replaced Mollenkopf in the circle with Zimpleman, who pitched a mop-up inning in a 20-1 win in five innings over Fremont in the regional on Tuesday but had not pitched in the postseason otherwise.
Zimpleman’s first task was Cowan’s Purdue Fort Wayne-bound shortstop McKenna Minton, who had 66 hits on the season going into the at-bat. Zimpleman’s first pitch was dropped for a passed ball to move runners to second and third.
Minton then hit a fly to shallow center with Bailey Harness making a running, lunging catch below her waist for the second out. Carter scored on the sacrifice fly to make it 5-3 with Current holding at second.
“I was just hauling just trying to get over there,” Harness said. “Because I was on the other side of second base because she hit a gap shot between Alexa (Finke) and I (in the third inning). So I was just trying to haul to get over there, and I got there.”
Said Zimpleman of Harness’ catch: “That was big. That was huge. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh.’”
That brought up Bynum, who fell behind 0-1 in the count before Zimpleman got her to hit a grounder right at Mollenkopf, who had just switched spots on the diamond with Zimpleman.
Zimpleman threw just five pitches in getting the most historic save in Caston softball history.
“No, not necessarily,” Zimpleman said when asked if she thought she would pitch at any point during the semistate. “I thought I would possibly just have Kinzie’s back the whole day because I know my role in that position. Burks and I talked about it a couple innings prior, and we just went from there.”
Caston scored multiple runs in the first inning in all five of their state tournament games. As a result, they have not trailed at any point in any of those five games.
This time, the first inning started when Cowan pitcher Tatum Rickert, also pitching her second game of the day, walked Zimpleman to lead off the game.
Isabel Scales singled into the hole to move Zimpleman to second. Mollenkopf cranked a line single to left-center on the next pitch to score Zimpleman, and when the ball was booted in center field for an error, Scales also scored and Mollenkopf moved to second.
Mollenkopf proceeded to third on Kylee Logan’s groundout to Miranda Bowling at first.
That brought up Finke, who bunted down the third baseline. Freshman third baseman Taylor Young threw to first for the out with Mollenkopf scoring on the safety squeeze.
Finke called going to state “crazy” and “overwhelming.”
“I do it a lot with my batting coach (Abbie Overmyer), and I do it a lot during practice too,” Finke said of her bunting. “I was just trying to put it in play honestly, just do anything to get on base or move the runners.”
Mollenkopf allowed a bloop single to Minton to lead off the game but then retired eight straight batters. But with two outs in the third, Minton doubled to deep right-center, and Bynum drove her in with a single up the middle. Rickert walked to put two on, and Bowling, who had been hitless in five at-bats on the day without hitting the ball out of the infield, then singled to bring home Bynum.
Mollenkopf quelled the rally when she got Young on a high pop to Zimpleman at second, and Caston replenished the three-run lead in the fourth.
With one out, Harness reached on a bloop single. Haley Logan’s sacrifice bunt moved her to second.
That brought up Hinderlider, who fell behind 0-2 in the count before working the count full and roping a triple to right-center on the seventh pitch of the at-bat to bring home Harness and make it 4-2.
Hinderlider smiled relating what she remembered from the at-bat, noting that first base coach Greg Zimpleman was yelling at her that if she had not fouled off so many pitches, she would have been on first base with a walk already.
“I just had to get on base,” Hinderlider said. “It was an off-speed (pitch). … It was really intense. The energy was all there. Everybody was focused. We were just all there.”
Zimpleman then hammered an RBI double on the next pitch to make it 5-2.
In the circle, Mollenkopf allowed a bloop single to Bryleigh Hiatt to start the fourth before retiring 10 straight batters. The most unusual play during the sequence came in the fourth when Current collided with Harsh in the baseline as Harsh tried to catch her pop-up and was called out for interference.
Relying more on her change-up – she said she threw about 12 to 15 change-ups after throwing just two against Kouts in the semifinal – Mollenkopf had five strikeouts during the run of 10 straight batters retired. She said she felt like a “senior mom” watching Zimpleman get the final two outs.
“Very tired, but I’m just glad that I got to just play for my team, and I get to wear this uniform one more time,” Mollenkopf said.
Earlier Saturday, Caston beat Kouts 9-0 in the first semifinal. No. 4 Cowan joined them in the final four with a 3-2 win over Rossville, scoring three runs on four hits in the top of the seventh after managing only one hit in the first six innings off Rossville pitcher Avery Layton.
Caston 5, Cowan 3
Caston 300 200 0 – 5 7 0
Cowan 002 000 1 – 3 6 2
WP – Kinzie Mollenkopf (6 ⅓ IP, 6 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 7 K)
LP – Tatum Rickert (7 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 5 K)
2B – Addison Zimpleman (CAS), McKenna Minton (COW)
3B – Macee Hinderlider (CAS)
1. Addison Zimpleman (2B/P) – 1-3, RBI, R
2. Isabel Scales (SS) – 1-4, R
3. Kinzie Mollenkopf (P/2B) – 2-3, RBI, R
4. Kylee Logan (C) – 1-4
5. Alexa Finke (RF) – 0-3, RBI
6. Annie Harsh (1B) – 0-2
7. Bailey Harness (CF) – 1-3
8. Haley Logan (DP) – 0-2
9. Macee Hinderlider (3B) – 1-3, RBI, R
FLEX. Makena Middleton (LF)
1. McKenna Minton (SS) – 2-3, RBI, R
2. Aryonna Bynum (C) – 1-4, RBI, R
3. Tatum Rickert (P) – 0-2
4. Miranda Bowling (1B) – 1-3, RBI
5. Taylor Young (3B) – 0-3
6. Bryleigh Hiatt (DP) – 1-3
7. Josie Byrd (CF) – 0-3
8. Cheyenne Carter (2B) – 1-3, R
9. Jenna Current (LF) – 0-2
FLEX. Savannah Crabtree (RF)
Left: Caston freshman catcher Kylee Logan looks into the dugout for a sign during the team’s 9-0 win over Kouts in a Class 1A Frankfort semistate semifinal Saturday. Logan also had a first-inning RBI single at the plate. (photo provided by Dee Brown/RTC)
Middle: Caston junior Isabel Scales rounds the bases after hitting a two-run homer in the Lady Comets’ 9-0 win over Kouts in a Class 1A Frankfort semistate semifinal Saturday. Scales also singled and doubled during the game and finished with five RBIs. (photo provided by Dee Brown/RTC)
Right: Caston junior Macee Hinderlider slides in at third with a two-out RBI triple in the fourth inning of the Class 1A Frankfort semistate final Saturday. Caston would go on to win 5-3 for the first semistate title in any team sport in school history. (photo provided by Dee Brown/RTC)
Pictures from the Caston Comets Semi-State victory at Frankfort High School Saturday June 3, 2023 Pictures provided by Dee Brown RTC