Orion 2A Sectional: Newman 5, Princeton 3
ORION — Jenna Johnson had bigger things in mind than Newman coach J.D. Waldschmidt had when she came to bat with two on in the top of the fifth inning with the Comets down 1-0 in Thursday’s sectional semifinal contest against Princeton.
She drove the first offering by Princeton freshman Katie Bates over the right-center field fence to give the Comets a sudden 3-1 lead. Teammate Hailey Frank added a two-run homer in the seventh inning to make it 5-1, and the Comets held on for a 5-3 win.
“We were trying to come up with something to see if we wanted to change runners or anything, and I said, ‘J.D., what do you want me to do?’ He said, ‘Hit a double.’ And I was, ‘I got better than that,’” Johnson said. “So I just came up and had full confidence in myself and I knew my teammates had confidence and I did what I knew I could do.’
Johnson, who went 2-4, said it was just what the Comets needed at that time.
“It was an amazing feeling. Probably the best feeling I’ve ever had,” the Comets catcher said. “Especially when we’re down like that, I think hitting that and everybody was just really excited and we’re back in the game. I don’t think anybody thought we were out of it, but it just got their confidence and morale going more.”
Princeton (15-11), which won its first regional in the program’s 27-year history, did not go down without a fight.
McKenzie Coleman drew a leadoff walk in the bottom of the seventh and scored on senior Kendra Cain’s double over the left fielder’s head.
PHS put its fate in the hands of its freshman.
Hannah Muehlschlegel came through with a single to send Cain to third. Newman pitcher Ella Koerner struck out slugger McKenzie Hecht, but Abby Peterson drove in Cain with a single to make it 5-3.
Keener (11-3) escaped further trouble by retiring senior Katie Bauer, who had two hits in the game, on a ground-out to third base.
“We kind of let it get away a little bit in the middle, but yeah, I like the fight in our team. It’s not over until it’s over, and we were right there,” PHS first-year coach Joe Bates said. “It was real, real close to getting back to us. Give credit to my girls. Have worked hard all year and never quit. That’s the important thing.”
Despite the loss, the Tigresses capped a historic season with the program’s first regional championship. They finished 15-11 after a 9-0 start with a little sputter halfway through. While five seniors graduating, they will have a strong returning cast, including five freshmen who saw extensive playing time.
“I don’t think there’s any limits to this group,” Bates said. “We got in mind we’re going to do it again next year and do it in a big way. The bar is raised another notch, and we’re going to raise it again.”
Senior shortstop Olivia Vergamini hit a two-out smash past diving Newman shortstop Madison Craft to score classmate Katie Bauer, who singled ahead of a hit by senior Miranda Sorenson, to give the Tigresses a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second.
PHS freshman pitcher Katie Bates (7 K, 10 hits) and Koerner (3 K, 9 hits) managed to wiggle their way out of trouble over the next three innings.
Cain snuffed out a Comets rally in the fourth inning by throwing out Johnson at the plate trying to score from second on a hit to right field by Josie Rank.
Then came the pivotal sixth inning for Newman. Koerner and Frank each singled to bring Johnson to the plate, and she promptly smacked her go-ahead home run.
Frank, who went 4-4, liked what Johnson did so much, she followed with her two-run drive down the right field line to stretch the Comets’ lead to 5-1.
“We talk a lot about seniors stepping up when the team needs them the most, and today, Jenna and Hailey came through,” Waldschmidt said. “I thought we were solid in the field all game and our bench was engaged. And Elle threw outstanding all game.”
Coach Bates had thought about walking Johnson and taking their chances with the bases loaded.
“Looking back, they got runners on second and third and first base is open. Hindsight, yeah, I should have walked her and try to force a play at home,” he said. “I thought, with only one out, we’re in a little bit of trouble already. We had got along pretty good, so we challenged her. It wasn’t the pitch we exactly wanted, and of course she took care of it.
“Same with second one, too (hit by Frank). Just leaked out over the plate a little bit and they’re good hitters.”
The Comets (17-10) advanced to Friday’s sectional championship against Winnebago, now rescheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday.