Small ball assault
LAKEVILLE — The bunt has long been a trademark of Derek Hicks’ offensive strategy, dating back to his days in the Chet Waggoner League in South Bend, where he won the Little League World Series with his District 11 team.
In Thursday’s Class 3A South Bend St. Joseph Sectional final, the New Prairie coach went back to his old friend to help secure the Cougars a title.
New Prairie (21-8) scored three runs in the fourth inning, all on bunts, and Karissa Gilpin made it stand up for a 3-1 win over the Indians (20-8) at Newton Park.
“We work on it all winter, we work on it all spring and it worked out today,” Hicks said. “That’s part of our game plan. We’re always ready to shift to the bunt if we need to.”
After Lauren Sandor mowed through the New Prairie order in the first three innings, allowing just one base runner via a walk, Hicks knew the Cougars weren’t going to win with thunder.
“When you have to go to it, you have to go to it,” he said. “When you’re not hitting, (against) a great pitcher like that, you’ve got to change it up. You can’t keep striking out. You have to put it in play. It’s always in there and when an opportunity comes, we try to take advantage of it. The girls executed perfectly.”
Maddie McSurley’s hustle single on a grounder to short started the small ball assault. Gilpin reached on a perfectly-placed self defense bunt to the second baseman’s vacated spot, sending McSurley to third, and McSurley scored when she beat pitcher Lauren Sandor’s flip home on an Amanda Trojanowski bunt.
“We practice bunting every day, like a bucket (of balls), half bucket,” Gilpin said. “It’s really important obviously. It was really exciting. I think they probably got rattled.”
With the bases loaded and one out, Ashlei Sonnenberg dropped a, you guessed it, bunt, that rolled past three St. Joe fielders to the first base side of the circle to chase in a pair.
“We realize how important (bunting) is, especially in games where it’s 0-0 or one run,” Sonnenberg said. “Sometimes, that’s all it takes to get a run in. I was just focusing on keeping the bat level and pushing it away so I could squeeze them in. It was crazy. I saw it and I was like, I’ve got to get to the base.”
NP had only one hit the rest of the game and went down in order five times.
Brooke Duddleson’s solo shot to left got St. Joe on the board in the fourth after Gilpin stranded runners at second in the first two innings. The Indians had a runner reach second to start the seventh, but set the next three down to end it, securing New Prairie’s first sectional since 2006.
“I just really wanted to win,” Gilpin said. “I think the last time (a 5-1 loss), I kind of gave up, it wasn’t that important, but this one, I did the absolute best I could.”
Gilpin scattered seven hits and fanned seven.
“Karissa’s awesome,” Hicks said. “She’s really matured. She got it done. (I’m) just totally thrilled.”
New Prairie will travel to the Sectional 20 winner for the regional Tuesday.
“We’ve worked a lot, so we totally deserve it,” Sonnenberg said. “It feels awesome.”
Class 3A South Bend St. Joseph Sectional
New Prairie 3, South Bend St. Joseph 1
Ashlei Sonnenberg bunted in two runs.