BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
A hot sun beat down on Hailey Gotshall at Center Grove Elementary School on June 12.
All eyes were on her. She was trying to beat Sullivan in the Class 2A state softball championship game.
Just like three years earlier, when she was in the circle for Pioneer’s state championship game win over North Central (Farmersburg), she was the right person for the moment. Given a two-run lead in the sixth inning thanks to two critical Sullivan errors, she capped off an extraordinary season and an extraordinary year in Pioneer girls sports by pitching the Lady Panthers to a 4-2 win and the team’s second state title in four years.
And did we mention that she also was third in the state in home runs and first in RBIs with 19 and 72, respectively?
The symbol of strength, poise, precision, smarts and the highest level of excellence, Gotshall is our pick as the first ever RTC Softball Player of the Year.
Pioneer’s state title was the area story of the year, but Tippecanoe Valley, Winamac and Caston received poll recognition for much of the season. We had at least one you-better-not-miss-this game played every week in our area.
Our area became a haven for sluggers. Gotshall’s teammate Hailey Cripe led the state in homers with 23. Winamac’s Ella Gearhart and Aubrey Gearhart, Pioneer’s Mackenzie Walker and Caston’s Isabel Scales joined Cripe and Gotshall in double figures in homers.
Winamac’s Alexis Sheets hit nine and nearly joined that group.
This was also the year where teams relied on multiple pitchers to great effect. Why put the burden on one pitcher when each team seemingly had two or more pitchers that could do the job?
Pioneer had Gotshall and Cripe. Caston had Addison Zimpleman and Kinzie Mollenkopf. Winamac had four reliable pitchers – the Gearhart sisters, Sheets and McKenzie Hinz. Valley had Corinna Stiles, Macy Kirchenstien and Abby Bowers.
Here is now the first All-RTC softball team. We thank area coaches for their time and insights, but ultimately, this list is our own, and we take full responsibility for it.
Hailey Gotshall (Pioneer) – Gotshall had ideal command of a screwball, rise ball, curve ball and change-up. She hit second in the batting order, which is not always an RBI spot, and still led the state in RBIs.
Aubrey Gearhart (Winamac) – Gearhart had 13 homers and 39 RBIs, and few teams figured out the spin on her southpaw offerings from the circle.
Addison Zimpleman (Caston) – Zimpleman was able to vary location and speed of her pitches and had a very good feel in the circle, which was unusual for a freshman. She was also a monster at the plate, hitting .575 with seven homers and 37 RBIs.
Ella Gearhart (Winamac) – Gearhart went from six homers and 29 RBIs as a freshman in 2019 to 18 homers and 57 RBIs as a junior in 2021. She hit homers off Zimpleman, Gotshall, Valley’s Corinna Stiles, West Central’s Emily Pilarski and Hebron’s Brooke Cunningham, among others, so it wasn’t like she just feasted off bad pitching. She also had a tremendous throwing arm behind the plate.
Isabel Scales (Caston) – Scales could shift effortlessly between catcher and shortstop, which is a very rare skill. She also hit .517 with 10 homers and 53 RBIs.
Mackenzie Walker (Pioneer) – Walker was a calm receiver, even though Gotshall and Cripe were always throwing wicked stuff in her direction. She also hit 11 homers and was a daring baserunner.
Hailey Cripe (Pioneer) – The Kansas recruit led the state in homers for the second time in her two seasons as a varsity softball player. Her two-run homer against Boone Grove was the biggest hit during Pioneer’s state tournament run. She protected Gotshall in the batting order. She was the best defensive shortstop in the area. She was Pioneer’s No. 2 pitcher, even though she would be the No. 1 on at least 98% of the teams in the state. And she even went 10 for 10 in stolen bases. She’s an incredible player.
Kinzie Mollenkopf (Caston) – She didn’t hit any homers, but she had 18 doubles and triples, and her work at second base was part of an improved Caston defense.
Alexis Sheets (Winamac) – Sheets is an athletic, versatile player. She can pitch or play shortstop and can affect the game by hitting for power and average.
Emma Howdeshell (Rochester) – Howdeshell switched from catcher to shortstop in the middle of the season and flashed a strong arm and good range. She also hit .427 and struck out only nine times in 82 at-bats.
Madison Blickenstaff (Pioneer) – She had 12 of her 38 RBIs in seven state tournament games, and her RBI total should be noted in the context she missed four games with a back injury in late April. Pioneer had the left side of the infield covered with her and Cripe.
Emma Goodman (Winamac) – Goodman was part of the “rookie” sophomore class of players who had to wait two years to make their varsity debuts. Once she did, she hit .440. In her last nine games, she hit .514, so she figures to get even better.
Kaitlyn Kanschat (Culver) – We liked Culver’s underrated infield with Maegan Pearl at first base, Kaylee Hamilton at second base, and Marissa Milam at third base, but the standout was Kanschat, a sophomore, at shortstop. She almost had as many extra-base hits (nine) as strikeouts (10).
Sydney Haughs (Rochester) – Haughs has enough power to hit the ball out of any ballpark, and she harnessed that power as the season progressed. She led Rochester with six homers and 31 RBIs.
Kylie Farris (Pioneer) – Farris was a speed demon who found a home in center field for the second half of the season.
Corinna Stiles (Tippecanoe Valley) – Stiles was a queen on a chess board. She could play outfield or pitch in the field, or she could slug or hit line drives or bunt for a hit or bat anywhere in the batting order. She also stole 25 bases.
Kylie Coleman (Rochester) – Coleman hit .447 and was second on the team with 22 RBIs. She also ran well and could reliably play shortstop or left field.
Molly Moriarty (Tippecanoe Valley) – Moriarty also saw time on the infield – she’s a lefty second baseman, no less – but we want to take advantage of her speed and throwing arm in the outfield. We suspect she will hit for more power as her career progresses too.
Mackenzie Robinson (Pioneer) – Robinson was a top defensive left fielder with an accurate throwing arm and seemingly had as many clutch, two-out hits as anybody in the Pioneer order.
Maddi Smith (Caston) – Smith was a switch-hitter with an unusual approach. She could slap from the left side or slug from the right side. She hit .422 and also stole 21 bases, and she also could handle shortstop in addition to center field.
Catie Perry (Winamac), Brayden Baney (Tippecanoe Valley), Emma Novaski (Pioneer), Allison Zahm (Argos), Brooklyn Borges (Pioneer), Luci Overmyer (Culver), Brittany Benn (Tippecanoe Valley), Annie Harsh (Caston), Maegan Pearl (Culver), Kallie Watson (Rochester), McKenzie Hinz (Winamac), Madi Smith (Tippecanoe Valley), Mya Musselman (Rochester), Crystabelle Blickenstaff (Pioneer), Maggie Smith (Winamac), Madisyn Barcus (Argos)
RTC softball player of the year Hailey Gotshall