Garr for the course: Whitko star pitches, hits way past Valley in sectional final
Benn drives in run with double, but Lady Vikes held to 3 hits
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
WABASH –- The Tippecanoe Valley softball team’s season ended Thursday, its culture affected by positive-minded new coach Brittany Mathias and a tragedy to the players’ “best friend.”
Augusta Garr pitched a three-hitter and drove in two runs with a double as part of a four-run fourth to lead the Whitko softball team to a 4-1 over Valley in the Class 2A, Sectional 37 final at Wabash’s Honeywell Park Thursday.
Whitko improved to 11-12 and won their sixth sectional title in school history. They have won a sectional three of the last four times the state tournament has been played.
Whitko will host Western Boone in a regional at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
Valley was denied their first sectional title since 1992.
Brittany Benn drove home Valley’s lone run with a two-out RBI double to the right-center field gap in the top of the first. It scored Brayden Baney, who had led off the game with a walk.
Macy Kirchenstien allowed two runs in 3 ⅓ innings and took the loss. Corinna Stiles, who was the winning pitcher in the semifinal win over Rochester, allowed two runs in 2 ⅔ innings of relief.
Whitko avenged a 5-1 loss at home to Valley in their Three Rivers Conference meeting on May 12.
Throwing to her younger sister Guinevere, Garr walked two and struck out eight.
After Whitko’s big inning, Valley got the leadoff hitter on base in both the fifth and sixth.
In the fifth, Kirchenstien led off and reached on an error. Abby Bowers grounded to first, moving Kirchenstien to second. Kayleena Agnew then also reached on an error on a grounder to the left side. Kirchenstien held at second.
That brought up Baney representing the tying run. Baney came in with a .308 batting average and 14 extra-base hits, second on the team behind Stiles. She had scorched a liner that second baseman Katelyn Cripe made a leaping catch on her previous time up.
Baney fell behind 0-2. She worked the count 2-2. But on the seventh pitch of the at-bat, Garr struck her out looking.
Molly Moriarty then popped to Garr to retire the side.
In the sixth, Stiles led off with an infield single, but Garr retired Benn on a comebacker, got Mercedes Snapp on a grounder to second and got Madi Smith on a fly to Madalyn Dafforn in center.
In the seventh, Bowers walked with one out, but Garr struck out Agnew and got Baney to line out with right fielder Erin Starkweather making a sliding catch to end the game.
Like she did on May 12, Kirchenstien stonewalled the Whitko offense for the first three innings. She allowed a two-out double to Guinevere Garr in the first but got Harley Bradley to ground to Baney at shortstop.
With Misha Brandenburg at second and one out in the second, Kirchenstien struck out Cripe and got Gabrielle Wilson on a grounder back to the circle.
Whitko loaded the bases with two outs in the third, but Kirchenstien got Brandenburg on a grounder to Moriarty at second to retire the side.
Then came the fateful fourth. Kirchenstien hit Kayce Sims with a pitch to start the inning. She struck out Cripe. Wilson then bunted, and when the throw to first was high for an error, Sims raced to third.
The Valley plan, which Mathias communicated to the players before the game, was to replace Kirchenstien with Stiles in the circle after the second time through the order.
With No. 9 hitter Erin Starkweather due up, Mathias decided to make the move then.
“That was the plan from the get-go,” Mathias explained. “It was to mix it up. You have to in softball. Once you get through the lineup twice, they start to get your timing down, so you have to start mixing it up. That’s why you need more than one pitcher for them to start, so you can mix it up.”
Kirchenstien moved to second base, and Moriarty moved from second base to center field to replace Stiles.
Starkweather then lined a single that just eluded Kirchenstien, diving to her left, to tie the game and move pinch-runner Kaycee Knutson to third. Starkweather then took second on a wild pitch.
Augusta Garr, who came in with a .524 batting average, then ripped a liner to center that spun behind Moriarty for a two-run double to give Whitko a 3-1 lead.
Two batters later, Guinevere Garr chopped a two-out RBI single to center to score Augusta Garr and make it 4-1.
Stiles retired the final seven batters. But Augusta Garr had all the runs they needed.
Mathias hopes to have changed the program’s culture. Valley improved from five wins in 2019 to 13 wins this season. They also improved from 1-8 in the TRC to 4-5.
“When I was in high school who really just worked on teamwork,” Mathias said. “And then I had a coach who didn’t. And so I always told myself that I would be the coach that brought the team close together and keep it positive. I usually try to be a very positive person, and so just trying to bring that energy back to Valley softball, and I think it’s there. You can tell the difference. The girls work hard. They’re determined. They want to play. They want to win, and they work well together as a team.
“It’s more than just wins and losses for them now. It’s more character building and being better people and having new friends they never would have had.”
The players also dealt with Brendyn Stump’s May 17 death from injuries suffered in a car accident two days earlier. Stump, 16, was a sophomore, and five of Valley’s starters – Moriarty, Stiles, Benn, Madi Smith and Bowers – were classmates with Stump.
“We have a lot of sophomores on our team, and it affected them tremendously,” Mathias said. “He was their best friend. And so just losing your best friend, it affects you, and then to continue playing. But they played with him in their heart, and they played with him in their minds. We had B4 (Stump’s basketball uniform) on our helmets. The girls were writing number ‘4’ on their faces.
“They just played for him. They played hard for him. They never gave up. He never gave up. Just continuing to fight, and that’s what we’re going to continue to do pushing forward.”
Whitko 4, Tippecanoe Valley 1
Valley 100 000 0 – 1 3 1
Whitko 000 400 X – 4 6 2
WP – Augusta Garr (7 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 8 K)
LP – Macy Kirchenstien (3 ⅓ IP, 3 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 1 HBP, 2 K)
2B – Brittany Benn (TV), Molly Moriarty (TV), Guinevere Garr (WHI), Augusta Garr (WHI)
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