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Annie’s gone: Harsh’s homer lifts Caston to 3rd straight Hoosier North title

Optimistic Pioneer coach Thomas: ‘If we play that way, we’re going to be unstoppable’


Sports Editor, RTC

Annie Harsh Macee Hinderlider

ROYAL CENTER — It’s not how many but when.

Caston softball coach Jon Burks has repeated the phrase often this year, and it might well have applied to senior first baseman Annie Harsh when she stepped in to face Pioneer’s Lois Layer to lead off the top of the seventh inning in a tie game Friday.

Harsh said she had been in a slump, but in perhaps her most important at-bat of the season so far, Harsh responded by lofting a towering fly ball just barely over the fence for the go-ahead solo homer, and Caston tacked on three more runs in the inning and went on to win 5-1 at Herk Hoffman Field.

Addison Zimpleman went 3 for 3 with a single, double, homer and two RBIs, and she also pitched a seven-hitter. Kylee Logan had a two-out RBI double in the third, and Macee Hinderlider had a two-out RBI single in the seventh that preceded Zimpleman’s homer.

Ava Beasy, Kamryn Newby and Addison Kennell had two hits each for Pioneer. Kennell had an RBI.

But it was Harsh who had the game’s biggest hit.

“Honestly, I was just trying to get my bat on the ball since I’ve been in a really bad hitting slump,” Harsh said. “I just swung the bat and hit the ball just right. … I was actually so excited because I actually finally hit the ball, and I was excited because we took the lead for the game to win the conference.”

Caston coach Jon Burks told her to try to hit something in the gap before her at-bat.

“Annie has been kind of like that all year. A little bit off and then boom, there she is,” Burks said.

The win improved the Class 1A, No. 5 Lady Comets to 18-4 overall and completed Caston’s third consecutive 7-0 record in the Hoosier North. Class 2A, No. 12 Pioneer fell to 17-7, 5-2.

Despite the loss, Pioneer coach Gabby Thomas said the team is in good position for Class 2A, Sectional 37, which begins 5 p.m. Monday with a game against Winamac at Rochester.

“I told her she pitched the best I’ve seen her pitch thus far,” Thomas said of Layer. “Even though the scoreboard said we lost, the momentum and the atmosphere and just the overall performance of my team, I’m excited for tournament time. Because if we play that way, we’re going to be unstoppable.”

Caston was coming off a 14-1 win in five innings at Triton Thursday that clinched a share of the conference title. Had Pioneer won this game, both Pioneer and Knox would have shared the conference with Caston. Knox beat LaVille 15-0 in five innings Thursday to complete their 6-1 run in the league.

Caston mixed the long game and the short game in the seventh. One out after Harsh’s homer, Alexa Finke bunted for a hit, and Myli Rude sacrificed her to second.

The left-handed hitting Macee Hinderlider pulled a hard grounder into right field for a hit, and Finke beat Kylie Attinger’s throw home to make it 3-1.

The home run chain then transferred from Harsh to Zimpleman after Zimpleman crushed a homer just to the right of straightaway center.

“I started to pick up what she was throwing me first pitch for the most part,” Zimpleman said of facing Layer. “She primarily was pitching outside, so I knew (to) get up on the plate a little bit and just take my hands towards right field.”

Beasy led off the bottom of the seventh with a double. Adeline Cripe then hit a grounder in the direction of Isabel Scales at shortstop.

The ball, Beasy and Scales all appeared to arrive at a similar time. The base umpire ruled that Beasy interfered with Scales’ opportunity to field the ball and called Beasy out.

Newby then singled to center to move Cripe to second.

But Zimpleman then got Kennell on a soft liner to Harsh at first base and Casey Webb on a comebacker to end the game.

Zimpleman was coming off a no-hitter with 11 strikeouts against Triton one day earlier, but she struck out only two this time.

“They definitely were making solid contact with the ball,” Zimpleman said. “They were finding some of those little holes that we just didn't cover, but honestly, Pioneer did a great a job of just getting the bat on the ball tonight.”

She got help from her defense however. Harsh threw out Attinger trying to steal in the first.

Pioneer scored in the second, but the inning flirted with disaster for Caston.

Beasy led off with a single. Cripe bunted, and Zimpleman picked it up, but there was nobody covering first. Pioneer had runners on first and second with nobody out.

Newby laid down a sacrifice bunt, moving runners to second and third. Kennell singled to center to score Beasy and move Cripe to third, but Zimpleman in the circle saw Kennell heading to second and after taking the cutoff throw, she quickly flipped to Scales covering second to retire Kennell.

She then got Webb to pop to Hinderlider at third to end the inning.

“We blew a gasket there the one inning where we didn’t know what the hell we were doing,” Burks said. “And what kills me is we just went over it. But we kept our composure.”

Caston tied it in the third after Layer has retired eight straight batters. Zimpleman then singled, and Logan scorched a double to left that went all the way to the fence. Zimpleman scored, but Logan was caught in a rundown and eventually tagged out at third to end the inning.

Finke led off the fifth with a bunt single, but Rude popped up a bunt that Beasy caught, and she immediately fired to first to double off Finke.

In the bottom of the fifth, Newby and Kennell led off with back-to-back hits. With Webb up, Kennell strayed off the bag at first. That was designed to draw a throw to first while the runner at second attempted to steal.

Logan, Caston’s sophomore catcher, threw down to first, but Harsh immediately fired to third, and Hinderlider eventually tagged out Newby. Zimpleman then struck out Webb and got Ava Ott on a grounder to second to end the inning.

Zimpleman hammered a double to lead off the sixth, and Logan’s sacrifice bunt moved her to third. Natalie Warner hit a squibber just in front of home plate for an infield hit as Zimpleman held at third.

Scales then flew out to Cripe, who advanced on the ball as she caught it in short-to-medium center. Cripe then uncorked a throw to Webb at the plate, who tagged Zimpleman trying to score from third for a double play.

The game was still tied.

“That was huge,” Thomas said. “Momentum and everything was taking here home, and she just did exactly what she was told.”

Hinderlider also handled Emma Sells’ short, spinning grounder and threw her out to begin the sixth.

“Off the hook,” Burks said when asked about his team’s senior leadership. “Them girls listen all the time, you know, and I told (Zimpleman) today, ‘Look, you seniors have to help these girls out out there. We’ve got to be on it.’ And after we had that brain fart out there and then you heard the jibber jabber, and I think there was a second wind that came in.”

In their second game Friday, Pioneer lost to Kankakee Valley 4-2.

As for Caston, they drove home to watch the school’s baseball team clinch the Hoosier North title with an 11-7 win over LaVille. They made it back in time to take a joint photo at home plate.

Caston 5, Pioneer 1

Caston 001 000 4 – 5 9 0

Pioneer 010 000 0 – 1 7 0

WP – Addison Zimpleman (7 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 2 K)

LP – Lois Layer (7 IP, 9 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 1 BB, 1 HBP, 4 K)

2B – Kylee Logan (CAS), Addison Zimpleman (CAS), Ava Beasy (PIO)

HR – Annie Harsh (CAS), Addison Zimpleman (CAS)

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