Girls for all seasons: Pioneer softball beats Sullivan for unprecedented third state title in 20-21
Gotshall wins in the circle, wins mental attitude award
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
GREENWOOD –- "Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars,” Les Brown once said.
The girls at Pioneer High School did not miss when they decided last summer that they wanted to win state championships in volleyball, basketball and softball in the same calendar year.
They shot for the moon and achieved their goals.
And because they did, they are not mere stars. They are legends.
The top-ranked Lady Panthers completed their trifecta of state championships with a 4-2 win over Sullivan in the Class 2A state championship game at Center Grove Elementary School’s Russ Milligan Field Saturday.
The 2A softball title comes in addition to the 1A state titles Pioneer won in volleyball on Nov. 7 and girls basketball on Feb. 7. Pioneer beat Loogootee in both of those state title contests.
Hailey Gotshall pitched a seven-hitter for the win, and she got help from her focused defense and Sullivan’s deficient defense.
Also named Hoosier North MVP on Saturday, Gotshall got an even bigger prize when she won the state mental attitude award for Class 2A softball.
Pioneer won their 23rd consecutive game to finish 35-2. Sullivan, denied their first state title in any sport in school history, had their 12-game winning streak snapped and finished 28-5.
The state title is the second in school history for Pioneer. They also won the Class 1A state title in 2018.
“Awesome,” Pioneer coach Gabrielle Thomas said. “It feels like we accomplished our goal when we started the season.”
Six players in the starting lineup – Hailey Cripe, Mackenzie Walker, Madison Blickenstaff, Brooklyn Borges, Crystabelle Blickenstaff and Adeline Cripe – also play volleyball and basketball.
“I’m just very excited,” Hailey Cripe said. “This is my last year with the seniors, so it was just very special.”
Trailing 2-1 in the top of the sixth and four outs away from a loss, Emma Novaski stepped up as a pinch-hitter with runners on second and third. She hit a grounder at the second baseman, who bobbled the ball for one error and then threw wildly to try and get Novaski at first for another.
Walker and Madison Blickenstaff scored to give Pioneer a 3-2 lead.
“I just went up there, and I was just pumping myself,” an emotional Novaski said later. “I knew I was going to get on base. … There were people on base. I went up there with confidence, and I knew I needed to score those people on base. … I’m so happy. I’m just glad that we won.”
Attinger is a left-handed slap hitter while Novaski is a right-handed hitter who had 11 extra-base hits and 16 RBIs on the season.
“Attinger had two good at-bats,” Thomas said of deciding to use Novaski as a pinch-hitter. “But we needed a little bit more pop. And I knew she was ready. She hit well all week, and she was just ready to perform.”
Novaski reached second on the errors and then scored on Crystabelle Blickenstaff’s double to deep left-center. Pioneer led 4-2.
Crystabelle Blickenstaff hits ninth in the Pioneer order.
“Yes, but not in high school ball,” Crystabelle Blickenstaff said when asked if she had ever hit a ball farther. “It was in travel, but after hitting that ball, I knew that I was finally back from the little dump I’ve been having lately. But it felt really, really good to have the team support me.”
Pioneer had not surrendered a multi-run lead in three years, and they didn’t surrender this one either.
Gotshall allowed Lexi Grindstaff’s two-out single in the sixth but stuck out Kate Ridgway looking to retire the side.
Then came the bottom of the seventh. Gotshall got Avery Wiltermood on a comebacker. Gracie Shorter smoked a liner to center that Kylie Farris flagged down. Delainey Shorter then walked.
That brought up Kendal Edmondson, who had doubled home both Sullivan runs in the third inning.
This time, she grounded back to the circle, and Gotshall flipped to Brooklyn Borges at first base. Their mission complete, a jubilant dogpile swarmed Gotshall.
Gotshall had pitched three consecutive shutouts against Wheeler, Frankton and Fairfield in the regional and two semistate games last week. The runs she allowed in the third inning broke a streak of 28 consecutive scoreless innings.
“I wouldn’t say it was as good, but I wasn’t throwing duds,” Gotshall said of her stuff. “One to nine, they had good hitters, top to bottom. So I couldn’t relax on any of them.”
Gotshall said she “definitely” threw more change-ups than a typical game.
“They got on my speed a lot quicker than other teams, so I had to keep them off-balance a little bit, so I just threw in that change every once in awhile,” Gotshall said.
Edmondson pitched a four-hitter but took the loss. All four runs she allowed were unearned.
Sullivan also committed two errors in the second inning when Pioneer took a 1-0 lead. Mackenzie Robinson reached on a dropped fly ball in right field and went to second on Kylie Attinger’s grounder back to the circle. With two outs, Crystabelle Blickenstaff’s fly to right was dropped again, and Robinson, running on contact, scored easily.
Hailey Cripe singled to right-center with one out in the third, but they threw behind her as she rounded the bag, and Hailey Cripe was thrown out trying to advance to second.
In the bottom half, Grindstaff led off with a walk. Two outs later, Gracie Shorter doubled to deep left to move Grindstaff to third. Delainey Shorter walked to load the bases.
Edmondson then hit a sharp-low grounder just inside the third baseline for a two-run double to give the Lady Golden Arrows their first lead.
But Gotshall got Brooklyn Riley on a fly to Robinson in left to limit the damage.
In the fourth, Sullivan threatened to extend their lead. Jocey Wible led off with a single, and Klaire Williams reached on a sacrifice bunt and fielder’s choice when Madison Blickenstaff’s throw to second was late. One out later, Ridgway reached on a bunt single.
Gotshall, Walker and the entire infield met in the circle. The message: Calm down.
“Focus on the next play,” Walker said.
Wiltermood, a .467 hitter, was up with the bases loaded, but Gotshall got Wiltermood to hit a soft grounder back to her. Gotshall flipped home for the force out, and Walker threw to Madison Blickenstaff at third. Williams was initially safe but overslid the bag, and Madison Blickenstaff tagged her for an inning-ending double play.
“We knew she didn’t like the outside (pitch) so much,” Walker said of Wiltermood. “She likes the inside, so we pitched her outside. And we knew we had to shoot for to save the runs, so that’s what we did. And then I knew that Maddy would be there at third, and we were glad that the runner ran off the bag, and she was able to get it.”
In the fifth, Edmondson walked with two outs. Riley then scorched a liner to left for a hit, but Robinson hit the cut-off Cripe, who then threw to Madison Blickenstaff to get Craighead to retire the side.
In the top of the sixth, Walker was hit by a pitch on the leg. Madison Blickenstaff grounded to Delainey Shorter at third. She hesitated and waited for Wiltermood, the shortstop, to cover second. Her throw was late to try and force the sliding Walker.
Pioneer had runners on first and second with nobody out.
Robinson flew out to center, and Borges bunted the runners to second and third. Novaski was called on as a pinch-hitter.
Pioneer 4, Sullivan 2
Pioneer 010 003 0 – 4 4 0
Sullivan 002 000 0 – 2 7 4
WP – Hailey Gotshall
LP – Kendal Edmondson
2B – Crystabelle Blickenstaff (PIO), Gracie Shorter (SULL), Kendal Edmondson (SULL)
1. Kylie Farris (CF) – 0-4
2. Hailey Gotshall (P) – 0-4
3. Hailey Cripe (SS) – 1-2, BB, HBP
4. Mackenzie Walker (C) – 2-3, HBP, R
5. Madison Blickenstaff (3B) – 0-4, R
6. Mackenzie Robinson (LF) – 0-2, BB, R
7. Brooklyn Borges (1B) – 0-2, SAC
8. Kylie Attinger (DP) – 0-2
Emma Novaski (PH) – 0-1, R
9. Crystabelle Blickenstaff (2B) – 1-3, RBI
FLEX. Adeline Cripe (RF)
1. Avery Wiltermood (SS) – 0-4
2. Gracie Shorter (CF) – 1-4, R
3. Delainey Shorter (3B) – 0-2, 2 BB
4. Kendal Edmondson (P) – 1-3, 2 RBI
Lauren Craighead (CR)
5. Brooklyn Riley (C) – 1-3
6. Jocey Wible (2B) – 2-3
7. Klaire Williams (RF) – 0-2, SAC
8. Lexi Grindstaff (1B) – 1-2, BB, R
9. Kate Ridgway (LF) – 1-3
Hailey Gotshall (7 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 8 K)
Kendal Edmondson (7 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 2 HBP, 2 K)
Pioneer softball players celebrate with the state championship trophy following their 4-2 win over Sullivan in the Class 2A state championship game at Center Grove Elementary School in Greenwood Saturday.