“Refuse to lose” sounds like a cliche, but that explains Gibson Southern’s 2-1 win over Castle in Thursday evening’s class 4A Evansville North sectional softball championship game.
Led again by senior pitch and University of Evansville recruit Jaime Nurrenbern, who hit a solo homer in the second inning and later pitched out of jams, the Lady Titans will celebrate a fourth straight sectional title and will pit a 26-2 record onto their own field for Tuesday’s 1-game regional vs. Floyd Central or Seymour.
A repeat of last years 4A sectional title win over Castle became hectic despite a 2-0 lead in the third inning, when sophomore and leadoff batter Colby Rogers singled, beat a pickoff try by diving back to first base, took second on senior Hannah Bryant’s sacrifice, and scored when senior Cora Blume lined a double to left center. Blume’s double marked the fourth and last hit off junior left hander Sydney Wilson, on a day Nurrenbern pitched a four hitter but had to strand seven base runners. Wilson was fresh from a no-hitter with 13 strikeouts in Tuesday’s 6-0 win over Evansville Central.
Castle, one notch behind No. 5 Gibson Southern in last weeks 4A state wide poll, closed with a 23-5 record despite stranding two runners in the third inning, a leadoff walk in the fourth, and chilling the bases with none out in the sixth as sophomore catcher Jenna Lis’s singled, senior Miranda Wagner became a hit batsman and sophomore Hannah Hood walked on a nine pitch at bat. Knight’s fans were roaring as Lady Titan coach Gary May walked to the mound.
This is where Gibson Southern refused to lose.
“When I got to the mound I told our girls, ‘I’m out here just to slow things down. This is something special, and this makes it fun,’ ” May said in the afterglow of the game.
On her 100th pitch, Nurrenbern retired sophomore Abi Jaquess on a soft liner to second baseman Bryant. Then, to field a sharp grounder hit junior McKendree Ward, Bryant ranged far to her left to glove the ball and flip it to Blume for the out at first base. Hope Burkins, courtesy running for Lis scored, other runners moving to second and third.
“A heck of a play by Hannah. If that ball goes into right field two runs score,” said May.
“I knew I had to keep the ball in the infield,” said Bryant, class of 2017 valedictorian who plans to major in athletic training at USI and then pursue a doctorate degree.
“Coach May hits balls like that in practice, and tells us to get to it and flip it to first base. When I got to the ball, I went off my left foot to flip it.”
That marked Castle’s run and ended Nurrenberns 25 sectional inning scoreless streak, 19 this week following the last six innings of last May’s 7-1 sectional win over Castle. With the potential tying run on third base and the go ahead run on second, Nurrenbern got senior Sarah Hofman on a soft liner as sophomore shortstop Shealyn Riggs made a reaching catch.
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“When I was going up, I kind of got nervous because the sun was in my eyes,” said Riggs, who turned 16 on May 5.
“Then I saw the ball and it was, ‘okay, I got it.’ Making that play and getting the win adds to all of the fun I have had with these girls.”
Nurrenbern, who finished with 111 pitches after the four hitter in which she walked two batters, hit two and struck out three, noted that “Shealyn is a tall girl, and I have total confidence in our defense. When they loaded the bases with none out, I knew I had to buckle down and get the outs.
“No, I did not have my usual velocity, but I tried to hit spots and keep their hitters off balance. I reminded myself in the sixth to go right at each batter,” a 6-foot-1 right hander after pitching her fourth straight sectional championship win.
“Even though Jaime did not have her usual fastball, we probably threw 95% fastballs and maybe only four curves,” May said. “Our defense was fabulous.”
Having survived that set, Nurrenbern retired Castle 1-2-3 in the seventh inning, starting with junior Ashley Nalin’s liner to Blume and closing 7:36 p.m. when senior third baseman Presley Johnson fielded a grounder and threw to Blume to retire junior Adriana Chavez. Nurrenbern, who also homered in Tuesday’s 8-0 win over Evansville Retiz said Thursday’s homer “came on a changeup on the inside half. I did not get all of it, and I am pretty sure the wind played a part in it,”
Blume, who will major in accounting at USI, said her difference-making RBI double “came on a pitch that was on my hands. I am surprised it went as far as it did.
“Being in uniform for four sectional championships is something special. Not many players can say they won four sectionals in high school.
“Wilson was a tough pitcher. She has good stuff, including a riseball.”
Sophomore catch Lauren Lingafelter, said Wilson threw “a lot of breaking pitches to go with her riseball. Jaime had a lot of movement to her pitches and she carried out a good mental game.”
This sectional championship, their second straight after moving to 4A due to their 3A state runner up finish in 2014 and their 3A state championship in 2015 means the Lady Titans will play in 4A the next two season’s without Nurrenbern. “Right now I couldn’t care less about that,” May said of the 4A continuation.
“Four straight sectional championships are pretty incredible. Especially since the last two are in 4A. Every game is tough at this level. Instead of one tough game in the sectional, we had three tough games in four days.”
“What a tough and gritty bunch of girls.”