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  • Val T.

A dream denied: Tecumseh’s Feather shuts out Caston, hits HR in 1A title game win

Mollenkopf named Caston’s first mental attitude award winner


BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS

Sports Editor, RTC


The Caston softball team poses with the Class 1A state runner-up trophy following their 6-0 loss to Tecumseh in the state championship game at Purdue University’s Bittinger Stadium Saturday. The Lady Comets were the first team in school history to ever reach the state finals. Caston finished 22-5.


WEST LAFAYETTE — The Caston softball team and the army of friends, family and admirers came into their game against Tecumseh at Purdue University’s Bittinger Stadium Saturday dreaming and hoping for their first state championship in any team sport in school history.

The Class 1A state runner-up trophy (photo provided by Dee Brown/RTC)

As it turned out, they were knocked over by a Feather.

That would be Natalie Feather, who pitched a four-hit shutout and hit a two-run homer to help the top-ranked Lady Braves win 6-0.

Katelyn Marx also went 3 for 3 with an RBI and two runs scored for Tecumseh (25-9), and Jenna Donohoo had a two-run double. Taylor Ash contributed an RBI.

Feather walked one and struck out three. Her only walk was to Alexa Finke to lead off the seventh, but she recovered to get Annie Harsh on a pop-up to shortstop, Bailey Harness on a forceout grounder to third and Haley Logan on a grounder to Marx at shortstop to end it.

Tecumseh players dogpiled in the circle, winners of their second straight state title and their fifth in school history.

Caston senior Kinzie Mollenkopf was the losing pitcher but also earned the mental attitude award for Class 1A softball in a postgame ceremony. She is the first Caston athlete to win a state mental attitude award.

Caston came in averaging 9.6 runs per game during their state tournament run. They scored in double figures 12 times on the season. But in this game, they did not get a runner as far as third base.

“I just figured if we prepare ourselves through the week and come in here and play our game and thought we’d be successful,” Caston coach Jon Burks said. “Unfortunately, we just didn’t string some hits together. That was our key: We just needed to string some hits together. And it didn’t happen, and they got a couple hits that they needed.”

Tecumseh coach Gordon Wood praised Feather’s development as a pitcher. Tecumseh started the year 8-8 before going 17-1 over their final 18 games.

“The difference between her is she went from being a hard thrower to a pitcher,” Wood said. “And there’s a big difference.”

Caston’s best chance to score came in the top of the fifth while trailing 1-0. Harsh led off with a single to right-center, and Harness laid down a sacrifice bunt. The throw to second to try and get Harsh was late, and the Lady Comets had runners on first and second with nobody out.

Feather recovered by striking out Haley Logan and getting Macee Hinderlider to ground back to her, which led to a forceout at third base.

Feather then engaged in a dramatic at-bat with Addison Zimpleman, who had doubled her previous time up. There was even a brief delay because the umpire ran out of softballs. Feather eventually won the battle, slipping a curve over the outside corner for a called third strike to retire the side.

“A good hit right there could have changed the course of the game,” Burks said. “But like I said, we just didn’t string them together today.”

Feather then singled with one out in the bottom of the fifth, and courtesy runner Keeley Wingerter advanced to second on Alena Holder’s sacrifice bunt.

That brought up Marx, Tecumseh’s speedy sophomore leadoff hitter. She drilled a double to the gap to bring home Wingerter. Ash reached when her grounder was booted for an error to put runners on first and third.

Burks visited the circle to talk to his players. Ash stole second. Caston elected to pitch to Donohoo, who came in third in the state with 71 RBIs.

Mollenkopf had gotten her on a fly to Makena Middleton in left in the first and fly to Finke in right in the third. This time, she went with a rise ball up and in, and Donohoo turned on it, lining a double over Isabel Scales’ head to the gap.

It was 4-0.

The topic of conversation in the circle was how to pitch to Donohoo.

“I said, ‘OK, just try to keep it away,’” Burks said. “That was the only one other than the leadoff batter (Katelyn Marx).”

Said Mollenkopf: “I was going to pitch to her. There was never an instance where we said, ‘Hey, we’re going to walk this batter.’ I just went head to head every single out and just had faith. … Kudos go to her because that’s a hard pitch to hit.”

Mollenkopf struck out Karsyn Flowers to end the fifth, but Flowers avenged that with a great play at third base to deny Mollenkopf at the plate in the sixth.

After Mollenkopf retired Natalie Brockett on a grounder to Scales at short and Brianna Marx on a pop to Hinderlider at third, Payge Johnson singled, and Feather hit a towering two-run blast to left-center.

Mollenkopf struck out 50 batters in five state tournament games to get to the state finals, but she had only three strikeouts against Tecumseh. Five of their runs came with two outs.

“Big-time,” Burks said of Tecumseh’s two-out hitting. “We called a pitch. It missed a little bit, and they took advantage of it and threw it out there. Two-out hits are clutch in any (game). You’ve got to take your hats off.”

The day began with an almost endless caravan of cars from Fulton to West Lafayette and almost certainly the most watched pregame warm-up in Caston softball history. Fans not only filled up the space behind Caston’s first base dugout but seeped behind Tecumseh’s third base dugout.

“You could have robbed a bank there,” Burks later quipped. “There was nobody there.

“But we’re winners all the way around regardless of whatever. … I’m just so proud of the community, proud of the girls. The following we had was awesome. It was a great experience.”

Harness was reflective after her final prep game.

“I’m happy that we made it this far, but obviously, it’s sad because this is my last time playing with this group of girls and the juniors, I’ve played with them since the third grade, so it’s just going to be really hard not coming back and playing with them,” Harness said. “But I’m just overall so proud of everyone, and I’m definitely going to miss this team for sure.”

Even Tecumseh’s coach noticed Caston’s following.

“I want to congratulate Caston,” Wood said. “What an amazing freaking crowd. When I walked in, I go, ‘What the hell are they doing behind our dugout? Then I looked and I go, ‘There ain’t no other room.’”

After pregame introductions and a rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” from Caston senior Ali Paul, Feather threw a first pitch change-up high to Zimpleman for ball one.

Feather would get Zimpleman on a grounder to third, but Scales ripped a double to right-center, pout her hands to her head and then stuck her index and pinkie fingers out while pointing at the dugout.

Caston fans had their first chance to cheer, but Feather found a way out of further trouble. Mollenkopf hit a line drive right back to Feather, who caught it and then turned around to try and double off Scales. But her throw was dropped, and a Tecumseh infielder inadvertently stepped on Scales’ left hand as she dove back to the bag. A brief delay ensued to stop a small amount of blood coming from Scales’ hand.

Feather then got Kylee Logan on a fly to Payge Johnson in right to end the inning.

That play was routine, but the play Johnson made to start the second was exceptional as she ran down Finke’s drive deep in the right-center gap on the dead run. Finke was so certain that she had hit safely that she sprinted to third thinking she had a triple before Burks told her from the coaches box that she was in fact out.

Zimpleman broke Feather’s streak of seven straight batters retired when she doubled with two outs in the third. Feather then got Scales on a grounder to short to end the inning.

Meanwhile, Mollenkopf escaped the first two innings unscathed, helped by Logan’s seed throw to catch Katelyn Marx trying to steal in the first – “a relieving factor,” Mollenkopf later said – and Feather’s fly out to Bailey Harness in center with two on to end the second.

Katelyn Marx tripled with one out in the third – Burks’ scouting report of Marx was so admiring as to say “throw it in there and pray” – and scored on Ash’s sacrifice fly to Middleton in medium-deep left just inside the foul line.

Mollenkopf then retired six in a row, and she became the first Caston leadoff hitter to reach when she singled to start the fourth. But Kylee Logan grounded into a forceout trying to bunt, and Finke popped into a double play on a bunt try with Flowers catching the bunt and firing to first to double Kylee Logan off by an eyelash.

Afterwards, Burks called Tecumseh’s defense “outstanding.”

Wood, a Monon native and 1974 North White grad who competed against Caston when he was a high school athlete, had praise for Burks and assistants Greg Zimpleman and Samantha Schanlaub.

“They were always competitive then, but this team is very well coached,” Wood said. “Very, very respectful coaches. And that says a lot. It carries over to the players. The players were great players. They played hard.

“I told their coach, ‘You have that type of team that I would love to coach.’ They never gave up. They’re gritty. They’re tough. They play the game the right way. Respectful. Hats off to them. I mean that.”

Class 1A state championship: Tecumseh 6, Caston 0

Caston 000 000 0 – 0 4 1

Tecumseh 001 032 X – 6 9 0

WP – Natalie Feather (7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K)

LP – Kinzie Mollenkopf (6 IP, 9 H, 6 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 3 K)

2B – Isabel Scales (CAS), Addison Zimpleman (CAS), Katelyn Marx (TEC), Jenna Donohoo (TEC)

3B – Katelyn Marx (TEC)

HR – Natalie Feather (TEC)

CASTON

1. Addison Zimpleman (2B) – 1-3

2. Isabel Scales (SS) – 1-3

3. Kinzie Mollenkopf (P) – 1-3

4. Kylee Logan (C) – 0-3

5. Alexa Finke (RF) – 0-2

6. Annie Harsh (1B) – 1-3

7. Bailey Harness (CF) – 0-2

8. Haley Logan (DP) – 0-3

9. Macee Hinderlider (3B) – 0-2

FLEX. Makena Middleton (LF)

TECUMSEH

1. Katelyn Marx (CF) – 3-3, RBI, 2 R

2. Taylor Ash (SS) – 0-2, RBI, R

3. Jenna Donohoo (C)1-3, 2 RBI

4. Karsyn Flowers (3B) – 0-3

5. Natalie Brockett (DP) – 0-3

6. Brianna Marx (1B) – 1-3

7. Payge Johnson (RF) – 2-3, R

8. Natalie Feather (P) – 2-3, 2 RBI, R

Keeley Wingerter (CR) – 0-0, R

9. Alena Holder (LF) – 0-2, SAC

FLEX. Kenzy Johnson (2B)



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