Apr. 17—PENDLETON — Traditionally a small-ball oriented team that has developed an affinity for the home run ball this season, the Pendleton Heights softball team utilized both parts of the game Saturday in a 10-2 win over Frankton to secure its fourth consecutive Madison County championship.
It was the 11th title overall in the 14 years the tournament has been played for Pendleton Heights (7-3) and was done despite the fact four starters — Gracie Conkling, Bo Shelton, Khloee Gregory and Hailee Brunnemer — have been out of the lineup this week due to COVID-related contact tracing.
"I miss those girls, and this is for them," an emotional PH coach Rob Davis said. "They worked hard for it. Unfortunately, the situation that happened happened, and they were caught in the fire."
Thanks to the continued outstanding pitching of Ryann Norris and a deep roster of offensive weapons, the Arabians carried on without missing a beat. They defeated Madison-Grant 9-4 in the first round before stopping previously undefeated Alexandria 11-0 in the semifinals and continued that trend against another unbeaten team in the Eagles.
They also took advantage of a pair of key Frankton (4-1) miscues to break the game open.
The teams exchanged runs over the first two innings, with PH moving runners over and Frankton getting a pair of runs on two swings of the bat.
In the top of the first, Kylie Davis led off for the Arabians with a double and was sacrificed to third. With two outs, Grace Scott singled her home for a 1-0 lead. In the second, Kenzie Green singled with one out, Davis singled one out later, and Brynn Libler drew a walk to load the bases. Green was forced home when Kieli Ryan was hit by Frankton starter Adyson Coppess.
For each of those runs, the Eagles — more specifically Coppess — had the answer.
She hit the initial pitch from Norris in the bottom of the first inning out to right center for a solo home run to tie the game at 1-1. The Eagles later loaded the bases that inning, but Norris fanned Abby Duncan to strand all three runners.
With two out in the second, Coppess again tied the score with a long home run to straightaway center.
That was the last run Norris allowed. She retired 16 of the next 18 batters she faced — allowing just a fourth-inning single to Jilly Hilderbrand and a sixth-inning walk to Makena Alexander — and struck out eight batters. One key for Norris was holding the heart of the Frankton batting order — Mackenzie Swango, Alexander and McKenzie McCorkhill — to an 0-for-7 day with four strikeouts.
"I just focused on getting ahead in the count and then working away from them," Norris said. "I kept them guessing on where I was going to go."
A pair of Frankton errors paved the way for the Arabians to break the game open with four runs in the fourth and three more in the fifth.
Green singled to lead off the fourth and was sacrificed to second. Davis hit a foul pop off third base Alexander dropped for an error, giving the senior shortstop new life. She took advantage by lining a double to the fence in right center to bring Green home with the go-ahead run. One out later, Ryan was hit by a pitch for the second time and again it was Scott with the big two-out hit, this time a two-run triple over right fielder Alivia Swisher's outstretched glove. Scott scored one batter later on a single from Carline DeRolf.
"Any championship team is good with the two-out hits," Coach Davis said. "It doesn't matter where you are, championships are won with two-out hits."
"If there are runners on, especially if they're in scoring position, I want to keep the rally going or hit them in," Scott said. "I'm really just thinking base hit. I was just going with the pitch. She was going outside a lot."
It was another Alexander error that started the Arabians' fifth, this time allowing Avery Mollenkopf to reach safely on a grounder. Green sacrificed Mollenkopf to second before Brinkley Epperson singled to put runners on the corners.
Davis lined out to Alexander, and Coppess appeared poised to escape trouble. But Libler hammered her second home run of the season, a three-run blast to right, for a 9-2 lead.
All seven runs allowed by Coppess in the fourth and fifth innings were unearned.
"I thought she pitched really well," Frankton coach Jeremy Parker said. "She really only had two, one of them is my earned run on that girl that pinch hit. I called a pitch I never should have called."
Parker was referring to Katelin Goodwin, a freshman making her varsity debut as a pinch hitter in the sixth inning. She launched a 1-2 pitch over the fence in right for a home run, her first as an Arabian.
The two home runs PH hit Saturday give them 28 in nine games. The program record is 33 in 2019, which was done in 27 games.
"One through nine on this team can go yard at any time," Davis said. "It's fun to watch."
Overall, Coppess allowed just three earned runs over seven innings to an Arabian team Parker told his club afterward will be the best the Eagles face this season.
Both teams resume their regular-season schedules Monday, with PH hosting Madison County fourth-place team Anderson and Frankton travelling to Shenandoah.
Contact Rob Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 765-640-4886.