Southwood vs. Caston, 5:30 p.m. Thursday at North Miami
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
The Caston softball team defeated West Central 10-4 in a Class 1A, Sectional 52 semifinal at North Miami Tuesday to improve to 18-4 on the season. Caston will play Southwood in the sectional final at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.
DENVER — The Class 1A, Sectional 52 softball semifinal between Caston and West Central at North Miami Tuesday ended in almost total darkness.
But for the Lady Comets, they moved one step closer to seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and winning a sectional title with a 10-4 win over the Lady Trojans.
No. 7 Caston, the Hoosier North champion, improved to 18-4 and earned a matchup with Southwood in the sectional final at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.
No. 10 West Central, the Midwest Conference champion, finished 19-9.
Caston had 13 hits off West Central hurler Jaden Erb and took advantage of six Lady Trojan errors.
Kinzie Mollenkopf hit the go-ahead homer and drove in three runs for Caston and also earned a complete-game win in the circle. At approximately 9:15 p.m. at the unlit North Miami field, Mollenkopf struck out Kailee Bishop looking on a change-up with the bases loaded and got Annika Smith to ground to Macee Hinderlider, who stepped on third for a game-ending forceout.
“We just tried to hurry,” Caston coach Jon Burks said of dealing with the darkness. “I know it puts them at a little bit of a disadvantage. I feel bad, but we both kind of were for the last 15 or so minutes. We got to get it in. I really didn’t want to come back tomorrow. I’m glad he stepped up and let us finish. Kinzie basically that last inning pitching, she was just seeing (catcher) Kylee’s (Logan) facemask.”
Annie Harsh also had three hits and three RBIs, including a two-out, three-run double to cap a five-run fourth and give Caston a 9-2 lead.
Addison Zimpleman had two hits, drove in a run, scored four runs and made three critical defensive plays at second base:
She threw out Smith trying to extend a double into a triple to lead off the second as the cut-off player after center fielder Bailey Harness ran down Smith’s extra-base hit in deep center.
She started a nifty 4-6-3 double play by hitting shortstop Isabel Scales on the pivot from her knees on Jalie Galsford’s grounder in the sixth.
She made a full-out, diving catch of Sydney Mellon’s looping liner to lead off the seventh.
Caston shortstop Isabel Scales, left, and second baseman Addison Zimpleman both try to catch Kailee Bishop’s pop-up just behind the pitching rubber in the first inning of the Lady Comets’ Class 1A, Sectional 52 semifinal against West Central Tuesday. Zimpleman caught the ball, and Caston went on to win 10-4. They will play Southwood in the sectional final at 5:30 p.m. Thursday. (photo provided by Dee Brown/RTC)
“Good defense by Addison tonight,” Burks said. “She played solid all around, but she really stepped up tonight and made some really good plays. We need that on defense, especially after we drop a couple. That can sink battleships, but we just pick each other up.”
Zimpleman led off the top of the third and got another chance to hit when her foul pop-up was dropped for an error. She later singled.
Two batters later, Mollenkopf’s liner to deep left-center off West Central hurler Jaden Erb disappeared over the wall to give Caston a 4-2 lead.
“I think that got our momentum going right there,” Burks said of Mollenkopf’s homer. “She stepped up again. That’s what she’s been doing all year long in that number three spot. So it was a big blow for us.”
Caston then batted around in the fourth. Macee Hinderlider pulled a triple over the right fielder’s head with one out.
Zimpleman then hit a grounder to short. West Central was playing their infield back, seemingly willing to trade a run for an out, but when the ball was booted for an error, Hinderlider was in, Zimpleman was on, and the lead was 5-2.
Scales then singled, and when the ball was booted for an error, Zimpleman never broke stride and slid safely into third with Scales moving to second.
Mollenkopf’s RBI single made it 6-2. Kylee Logan was hit by a pitch to load the bases, and Alexa Finke grounded into a forceout at the plate with Erb flipping to Bishop on a bunt try.
That brought up Harsh, who had a private hitting session with Zimpleman and Scales and former Rochester and Indiana State player Abbie Overmyer on Monday night.
Harsh then hit a deep fly to right-center. She said she thought it was gone, but it stayed in play, bringing in Mollenkopf, Logan and Finke and increasing the lead to seven.
“We knew that she hit out and up, so that we made an adjustment to make sure that we hit the outside (pitch) and took it to right field,” Harsh said. “I thought the hit was over honestly, but it wasn’t, but I felt really great after that, and I just felt like it really put our team over the hump.”
Said Burks: “I expect that out of her. Annie’s been tattooing the ball, putting it in play and showing some power sometimes.”
Harsh’s older sister Ady is a former Caston and current Huntington University pitcher, and Annie said she and Ady talk about softball “quite often.”
Annie said that her mother would not let her pitch during her formative years. So she turned to hitting.
“Me and Ady talk about it a lot,” a smiling Annie said. “We just bond over it. … My mom told me that if I was a pitcher that she wouldn’t let me play softball because she couldn’t go through the stress. But we still see the game the same, and we can still talk about it.”
Zimpleman doubled and scored when Scales reached on an error with two outs in the fifth to make it 10-2.
After the fifth, North Miami athletic director Adam Miller consulted briefly with the umpires, apparently about the impending darkness.
Bishop hit a solo homer in the sixth to make it 10-3, but the double play that Zimpleman started kept the damage at one run.
Mollenkopf’s only walk came on a 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded to Erb in the seventh, cutting the lead to six, before she got the final two outs.
The crowd buzzed with early arriving fans from Caston and West Central in a matchup of top 10 teams. It was a rematch of an April 24 game in Francesville in which Caston also won 10-4 behind five homers.
Glasford had pitched a no-hitter against North White the previous night, but West Central coach Brian Pilarski went with Erb, who also was the losing pitcher in the April 24 game.
Zimpleman reached second on a throwing error after a grounder to short and scored on Scales’ double to deep center. Scales advanced to third on Mollenkopf’s grounder to second.
Logan then struck out, but when a pickoff attempt by the West Central catcher was wild for an error, Scales got up after diving back to the bag and came in to score to make it 2-0.
Glasford hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the second to tie the game.
Southwood, who took down Three Rivers Conference champion and defending regional champion North Miami 7-2 in the quarterfinals on Monday, eliminated Northfield 12-6 in Tuesday’s first semifinal.
Caston blanked Southwood 17-0 in five innings in the 2022 sectional quarterfinals in their most recent meeting.
Caston 10, West Central 4
Caston 202 510 0 – 10 13 3
West Central 020 001 1 – 4 7 6
WP – Kinzie Mollenkopf (7 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 7 K)
LP – Jaden Erb (7 IP, 13 H, 10 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 1 HBP, 9 K)
2B – Isabel Scales (CAS), Annie Harsh 2 (CAS), Addison Zimpleman (CAS), Annika Smith (WC), Sydney Mellon (WC)
3B – Macee Hinderlider (CAS)
HR – Kinzie Mollenkopf (CAS), Jalie Glasford (WC), Kailee Bishop (WC)