FORT BRANCH — Gibson Southern softball girls are such escape artists that their defensive magic turns sickness into joy.
Thus the No. 5-ranked Lady Titans’ 2-1 escape from Floyd Central in Tuesday evening’s Class 4A regional, a win that gives them a 21-game win streak and 27-2 record to pit against No. 2 Center Grove at noon CDT Saturday in Game 2 of the Bedford-North Lawrence Semi-State.
Tuesday’s win, which ended Floyd Central’s 12-game win streak and sent the Lady Highlanders back to Floyds Knobs with a 26-8 record, repeated the Lady Titans’ 1-0 win at Floyd Central in the 2016 regional, their first 4A season after a 3A state championship in 2015 and runner-up finish in 2014 subjected them to the Indiana High School Athletic Association “success factor” rule. But this regional title, Gibson Southern’s sixth, proved far tenser than a year ago, and for more reason than the Lady Highlanders’ nine hits off University of Evansville recruit Jaime Nurrenbern.
“We didn’t know until about a half-hour before game time that Jaime would pitch,” Coach Gary May said. “Her mother called me this morning and said Jaime was throwing up. There’s a lot of flu going around. I told our girls about an hour and 45 minutes before game time that Lyndi Adamson (sophomore and jayvee pitcher) would start. A while after that, Jaime said she could pitch.”
Nurrenbern, whose five strikeouts were doubled by Floyd Central sophomore left-hander Abby Letson, said her sickness “made it interesting. It’s been 10 years since I was sick. I just took it one pitch at a time. I wasn’t 100 percent, but I felt better as the game went along.”
Letson lost despite pitching a six-hitter and walking none (Nurrenbern walked one). The Lady Titans scored the first inning when sophomore left fielder Colby Rogers opened with a single, advanced on a wild pitch, took third on Cora Blume’s groundout and scored on sophomore catcher Lauren Lingafelter’s line single to center.
“When I hit the ball I thought it would be a lineout,” said Rogers, to turn 17 June 21. “My teammates are friends, and helping our seniors win their last game on this field means a lot to me.”
Lingafelter, whose second-inning homer brought last May’s 1-0 win in Floyd Knobs, said her Tuesday RBI “came on a high fastball. Letson throws a good rise ball and was hitting the zone real well.”
Floyd Central got even in the second inning on successive two-out singles buy Taylor Castleberry, Jensen Striegel and freshman Taryn Weddle. The tie lasted until the third when, with two out, Blume lined a home run into the bleachers behind the left center field fence.
“I was just trying to get a hit and get on base,” Blume said of her eighth 2017 homer. “The count was 1-and-2, so I didn’t expect that good a pitch. I think it was right down the middle and it hit the best part of my bat. When the crowd started yelling, that’s when I knew it was a home run and I just started smiling.”
Singles by senior Kennedy Stoll, who sung The National Anthem; Rogers and Blume comprised the rest of the Lady Titans’ offense vs. Letson, Defense did the rest.
“I’m speechless,” Nurrenbern said of the support her fielders produced. “A lot of their hits weren’t hard, and I knew our defense would come through.”
May enthused that “our defense was really good. Shealyn Riggs making that diving catch to start the game. Lauren picking that runner off first base in the fifth. All our girls made plays.
“Jaime wasn’t at her best but she battled and oh how our defense came through.”
Following Riggs’ game-opening diving catch on Castleberry’s blooper behind third base, Striegel singled. Senior second baseman Hannah Bryant then ranged far to her left to glove Weddle’s grounder, and Nurrenbern caught Cassie Thomerson’s popup.
Escapes in each of the last three innings. After Alexis McCullough drew Nurrenbern’s only walk to start the fifth, Lingafelter picked her off. “Coach May said last week he wanted me to throw down there at least once a game, and that gave me courage,” the catcher said.
A big play because Paige Meyer and Castleberry followed with singles. Meyer stealing second and racing to third on Castleberry’s hit. But, on a suicide squeeze play, Striegel bunted just in front of the plate, enabling Lingafelter to grab the tag and tag out Mayer.
“I heard people yell, ‘She’s going!’ And the ball was where I could get it quickly,” Lingafelter said. “When I tagged the runner, I held the ball with both hands. I wasn’t going to drop it.”
Bryant then threw out Weddle, but tension again in the sixth when Thomerson blooped a single and Dallas Henderson beat out an infield bounder. Nurrenbern replied with a strikeout, popup and groundout.
“Floyd Central has so much speed,” noted May, who saw Meyer open the seventh with an infield hit. Nurrenbern fielded Castleberry’s grounder and threw to second for the force-out, and then came a game-ending double play that is anything but conventional.
Bryant, playing shallow, fielded Striegel’s grounder and flipped to Blume for the out at first. And when Castleberry tried to advance from first to third on the play, Blume threw to senior Presley Johnson, who applied the tag that got the “out” call and sent off a celebration.
“When I caught Hannah’s throw, I looked at the runner who was rounding second, and saw she was going to third,” Blume said.
“Presley hadn’t gotten back to the bag, but I knew she would and I threw the ball to the bag.
“Now I want to win the semi-state that we didn’t win last year.”
Floyd Central’s Troy Striegel, co-head coach along with Sean Payne, called the outcome “really tough because we were putting the ball in play. We had a game plan and it worked. Nurrenbern likes to work inside and out and throw a lot of first-pitch fastballs.
“We’re very aggressive on the bases and I can’t fault our girls for that. Hats off to Nurrenbern, because she shut off the power that has given us 27 homers this season. And hats off to their defense for making plays.”