Belle’s beautiful bunt bolsters Pioneer, helps bash Bombers
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
WINAMAC –- Hailey Cripe pitched a two-hitter, and Hailey Gotshall and Madison Blickenstaff homered as part of a seven-run sixth inning as the Pioneer softball team beat Rensselaer 11-1 in six innings in a Class 2A, Sectional 34 quarterfinal at Winamac Town Park Monday.
Pioneer won their 17th consecutive game and improved to 29-2. They have allowed 12 runs total during the winning streak.
Pioneer was ranked No. 1 in the final Class 2A coaches poll of the season that was released Tuesday. Not in the top 10 to start the season, Pioneer is ranked No. 1 for the second straight week.
Pioneer will play the winner of Tuesday’s North Newton-Boone Grove game in the semifinals at 6 p.m. Wednesday.
Rensselaer finished 7-10.
Combining unrelenting heat with impeccable control from the circle, Cripe walked none and struck out 13. Two of Rensselaer’s four baserunners reached on errors.
Rensselaer’s only run came in the top of the fourth. With Lauren Moore on first and Makenzie Moore on third and one out, Lauren Moore took off from first and got in a rundown long enough for Makenzie Moore to steal home.
Crystabelle Blickenstaff then tagged Lauren Moore to complete the caught stealing, and
Cripe struck out Macie Northcutt to end the inning and preserve a 3-1 Pioneer advantage.
Crystabelle Blickenstaff led off the bottom of the fourth. She had tried to bunt for a hit in the regular season finale against Kankakee Valley but bunted too close to the circle and was thrown out at first by the pitcher.
She had worked at bunting closer to the third baseline in practice since, and this time, she placed the bunt perfectly and beat the throw to first.
After Kylie Farris sacrificed her to second, Gotshall chopped a single to left to score Crystabelle Blickenstaff and make it 4-1.
“That was huge,” Pioneer coach Gabrielle Thomas said of Crystabelle Blickenstaff’s bunt. “That got our offense really going. She just executed it really well. Against KV, she bunted it back to the pitcher. This one, she got it down the third baseline, and her speed is something.”
Cripe was hit by a pitch, and Mackenzie Walker reached on a dropped fly ball to load the bases with one out, but Lauren Moore struck out Madison Blickenstaff and speared Mackenzie Robinson’s liner back up the middle to limit the damage.
In the bottom of the sixth, the slap-hitting Farris led off with a chopper in front of the plate. The throw from the catcher to try and get her sailed down the right field line for a three-base error.
Gotshall then cranked a two-run homer, her 16th, to make it 6-1.
Cripe, who is second in the state with 20 homers, then singled and sped to third when Walker singled in the hole between third and short.
That brought up Madison Blickenstaff. She had been 0 for 3 up to that point. The last time she had played at Town Park, she had to leave the game and missed weeks with a back injury.
“I went up there, and I was actually going to bunt it, and then I heard everybody cheering for me, and I was like, if they believe in me, then I can believe in myself,” Madison Blickenstaff said. “And then I just got really angry and hit it. That was basically it.”
She channeled her anger in a long homer to left-center that made it 9-1.
After singles from Mackenzie Robinson and Emma Novaski and a walk to Crystabelle Blickenstaff to load the bases, Farris ended the game with a two-run single under the third baseman’s glove.
Before that, Cripe was in control.
“She had a few missed spots, but she did a good job of really then honing in after she had missed a spot,” Thomas said. “She did a good job of working that, and when she did throw a change-up, it was very effective.”
Pioneer 11, Rensselaer 1 (6 innings)
Rensselaer 000 100 – 1 2 4
Pioneer 012 107 – 11 14 4
WP – Hailey Cripe (6 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 13 K)
LP – Lauren Moore (5 ⅓ IP, 14 H, 11 R, 10 ER, 2 BB, 2 HBP, 1 K)
2B – Emma Novaski (PIO), Hailey Gotshall (PIO)
HR – Hailey Gotshall (PIO), Madison Blickenstaff (PIO)