SOFTBALL: Panthers looking to make history this weekend

·6 min read

Jun. 11—The Pioneer softball team has a chance to make some history on Saturday.

The Panthers think they have the team to do it.

The Panthers are going for an unprecedented accomplishment in state history: winning state championships in softball, girls basketball and volleyball in the same school year.

No. 1 Pioneer (32-2) plays No. 10 Sullivan (28-4) at 4:30 p.m. Saturday in the Class 2A state championship game. The contest will be held at Russ Milligan Field at Center Grove Elementary School in Greenwood. Tickets must be purchased online at GoFan.co.

Pioneer has won six state championships in team sports overall: three in football (1997, 2017, 2018) and one each in softball (2018), volleyball (2020) and girls basketball (2021). All have been won in Class A, so the Panthers have another shot at history as they could win their first-ever Class 2A state title.

Senior Ezra Lewellen won Pioneer's seventh state title in track last weekend when he won the 100-meter dash, and the Lady Panthers have a chance to win Pioneer's seventh team state title this weekend.

Seniors Madison Blickenstaff and Mackenzie Walker, junior Hailey Cripe and freshman Brooklyn Borges have a chance to be starters on three state championship teams in the same school year. Blickenstaff and Walker were also starters on the 2019 softball state champion, as was senior ace Hailey Gotshall, who pitched the Panthers to a state title as a freshman. Madison Blickenstaff's younger sister Belle also has a chance to be a member of three state championship teams this school year.

Here's the Panthers' likely starting lineup on Saturday:

Leading off, Kylie Farris

The Panthers always seem to have a good leadoff hitter with speed. Farris fits the bill.

The junior center fielder bats left and is a slapper/bunter. She's hitting .468 with 44 runs scored and also has an inside-the-park home run on the season.

Batting 2nd, Hailey Gotshall

Gotshall had looked into joining the Air Force following high school. But when she didn't get the Cryptologic Language Analyst job she was looking for, she decided to go back to her original plan of playing softball at the University of Southern Indiana. She plans to major in biology and criminal justice at USI for a possible career in forensic science or cryptology.

It might take a cryptologist to decipher whether Gotshall is a better hitter or pitcher in softball. She has certainly been great at both during her high school career.

She's 19-2 with a 1.05 ERA and has 223 strikeouts in 126 innings pitched. She's hitting .609 with 19 home runs and 72 RBIs. She leads the state in RBIs and is third in home runs.

Batting 3rd, Hailey Cripe

Cripe is the two-time reigning Loganland Player of the Year in girls basketball and is also an outstanding volleyball player. But her main sport is softball.

The junior projects as an outfielder or corner infielder at the next level. She's one of the best shortstops in the state for the Panthers. She might be the best backup pitcher in the state as she throws a 64 mph fastball and is 15-0 with a 0.32 ERA. She has fanned 187 in 88 innings.

She also has some of the best power numbers in the nation. She is third in the nation in home runs with 23 and is hitting .583 with 62 RBIs. She leads the state in home runs and is third in RBIs.

Batting cleanup, Mackenzie Walker

Walker is another three-sport standout whose best sport is softball. She was the Panthers' best defensive player in volleyball and had the game-sealing steal in the girls basketball state title game. She's also a standout defensive catcher and has thrown out seven of the eight runners that have tried to steal a base against her.

The Huntington University-bound senior can also rake. She's hitting .522 with 11 home runs and 49 RBIs.

Batting 5th, Madison Blickenstaff

Blickenstaff's best sport is volleyball — she's going to play at Ohio Christian University. But she's also a good softball player. She plays good defense at third and is hitting .398 with four home runs and 38 RBIs.

She missed four games with a back injury that hampered her for a time but she has come up with big hits at tournament time. She showed good speed in basketball with her 6-foot frame and will also bunt for a hit.

Batting 6th, Mackenzie Robinson

Robinson might have had the biggest smile after the Panthers won the semistate title last weekend as she had to miss the sectional and regional rounds due to health protocols.

It was a triumphant return for the junior left fielder, who was also a starter on the state champion volleyball team. She's hitting .361 with 24 RBIs. Her twin brother, Brock, will be the Panthers' leading returning rusher in football. He had to miss the Class 2A semistate game against Fort Wayne Bishop Luers with a broken collarbone which hurt the Panthers' state championship hopes last fall in what was a narrow loss. Their older sister, Alexis, was a starter on the 2018 softball state championship team.

Batting 7th, Brooklyn Borges

Borges has a chance to start on three state championship teams as a freshman. Her main sport is volleyball but she's also shown speed and athleticism with her 6-foot frame in softball as a slap hitter. She can also bash the ball when she swings away.

The starting first baseman is hitting .474 with 23 runs scored.

Batting 8th, Kylie Attinger

Attinger is another freshman starter who has shown good speed as a slap hitter from the left side and has come up with timely hits in the tournament.

She's hitting .417 with 13 runs scored and has drawn a starting spot in the lineup during the tournament.

Right fielder, Adeline Cripe

Cripe is another freshman who coach Gabby Thomas is confident in as the starting right fielder. She's the younger sister of Hailey Cripe.

She hit .375 in 16 varsity at-bats during the season.

Batting 9th, Belle Blickenstaff

The sophomore second baseman has played good defense in the infield this season.

She's hitting .333 with 30 runs scored. She also pitched seven varsity innings this year and posted a 1.91 ERA.

Junior Emma Novaski also drew some starts during the tournament and is hitting .337 with 18 runs scored on the season.

The Panthers face a Sullivan team that scored six runs in the bottom of the seventh to knock off No. 3 Union County 9-8 in a semistate game last weekend. The Golden Arrows have four comeback wins this postseason and also have tournament wins over Linton-Stockton, Evansville Mater-Dei, South Ripley and Southridge. The Arrows have hit 40 home runs as a team and have a 1.83 team ERA.

They are undefeated against Class 2A opponents this year but are facing a Panthers team that has hit 58 home runs and has a 0.79 team ERA. It should be another exciting state championship game on Saturday.