The season-opener for the New Castle High School softball team was moved from Wednesday to Tuesday evening over concerns about the forecasted possibly poor playing conditions on Wednesday.
It so happened that the southerly wind was gusting Tuesday evening at Baker Park Field, and visiting Class 2A No. 4 Union County used that to its advantage as it rolled past the host Trojans 23-0 in five innings.
Abbey Renner was hired to replace Jeff Theobald as softball head coach at New Castle starting in the 2020 campaign. But last season was totally wiped out over COVID-19 concerns, so Tuesday was Renner’s debut as the new Trojan head coach.
“They’re (Patriots) a really good hitting team,” Renner remarked afterward, “and their pitcher kept us a little off balance. We weren’t as aggressive at the plate as we need to be. This was a good wake-up call for us, and we’ll get back to work at practice to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
The Patriots belted seven home runs over the fence and recorded a total of 23 hits in the contest. Twenty-two of those hits were in the final three innings played.
In addition, Union County sophomore pitcher Chloe Greene hurled a complete game, five-inning gem. Greene faced just 18 New Castle batters over the five innings, allowed only two hits and no walks, and struck out 11 Trojan batters.
As already indicated, only three New Castle batters reached base. Trojan sophomore Madi Moffitt and junior Michaela Hamby had the hits, and sophomore Chloe Vaughn reached base on a throwing error in the bottom of the fifth inning.
In New Castle’s defense, it truly is a young team. The Trojans have just two seniors (Mackenzie Bridgeman and Katie Cooper) and two juniors (Hamby and Hannah Essert) who played as freshmen on the 2019 varsity squad.
For everyone else on the roster, including the five sophomore starters, this was their first-ever varsity game.
“Our sophomores didn’t have a freshman season,” Renner said, “but Union County was in the same boat that we were. I think those five sophomores for us gave it their all today.”
Moffitt got the start in the circle for New Castle, gave up a double to centerfield by Union County senior lead-off hitter Tori Russell in the top of the first inning, but retired the next three batters on two strikeouts and a groundout to get out of the half-inning unscathed.
Greene gave up a one-out single to Hamby in the bottom of the first, and Hamby stole second base. But Greene whiffed the other three batters in the frame and Hamby was left standing on second base.
Moffitt retired the Patriots in order in the top of the second inning on a groundout, pop-up to her, and a strikeout.
Greene struck out the side in the bottom of the second inning.
The roof fell in on Moffitt and New Castle in the top of the third inning, and the bottom of Union County’s lineup fueled the explosion.
Leading off, sophomore Payten Logue singled to right field and freshman Whitney King singled to centerfield. The top of the order came up, and Tori Russell belted a 2-1 offering from Moffitt over the left field fence for a 3-0 Patriot lead.
Freshman AnnaLea Adams and junior Sophia Knock hit consecutive singles to left field, and sophomore Shelby Hill walked on a 3-2 pitch to fill the sacks. Greene’s grounder was booted for an error and Adams and Knock crossed the plate on the play with Hill taking third base.
Greene stole second base. Hill and Greene scored on a single to centerfield by freshman Bailey Mathews, and Mathews went to third base on a two-base throwing error. Mathews scored on a 4-3 groundout by senior Roya Walton to boost the Union County advantage to 8-0.
Moffitt whiffed the next two Patriots batters to finally get out of the half-inning.
Greene retired the Trojans 1-2-3 in the last of the third on two strikeouts and a groundout.
Union County added three more runs in the top of the fourth inning and could have had more.
Leading off, Tori Russell walked on five pitches, Adams reached base on an infield hit, and Knock stepped up and socked the ball over the centerfield fence for a three-run homer and 11-0 Patriot lead.
Hamby came into the circle to relieve Moffitt as pitcher. Hill’s fly ball to the outfield was dropped for an error, but the next batter hit a fly ball to left that was caught for the first out of the half-inning.
Sophomore Olivia Russell singled to right field, sending Hill to third base, and Russell took second-base on the throw-in.
But Hamby bore down and fanned the next two Union County batters, leaving two runners in scoring position.
After Greene struck out New Castle’s lead-off batter in the bottom of the fourth, Moffitt lined a single to centerfield. But Moffitt got no farther, as Greene retired the next two Trojan batters via strikeout and 4-3 groundout.
The Patriots added 12 more runs in the top of the fifth inning on 12 hits. Junior Reily Frazier singled to right field leading off, but New Castle sophomore left fielder Ava Stearns made a fine running catch to rob Tori Russell of a hit to record the first out.
Adams stepped to the plate and knocked the ball over the left field fence for a two-run homer and 13-0 lead.
Knock lined the ball off Trojan sophomore shortstop Presley Gibson’s glove for a hit that trickled into left centerfield. Hill singled to left and Greene hit a pop-up single to short centerfield to fill the bags.
Mathews stepped to the plate and clouted Hamby’s second pitch to her over the left field fence for a grand-slam home run and 17-0 Patriot advantage.
Walton walked on a full-count pitch, moved to second on a single to center by Logue, and both runners moved up a base on a wild pitch. Walton scored on Frazier’s 4-3 groundout and Logue took third base.
Tori Russell singled to left field plating Logue. Adams stepped to the plate and hit her second home run of the inning, a two-run shot over the left field fence, to boost the Union County lead to 21-0.
Moffitt returned to the circle for the Trojans and gave up back-to-back home runs over the left field fence to Knock and Hill, and the Patriots’ advantage stood at 23-0.
Greene followed with a single to right field. New Castle freshman McKenna Speer was brought in to pitch, but before she could hurl a single toss Greene stepped off the bag for an automatic out to retire the side, and the half-inning finally ended.
In the last of the fifth, Greene retired the first Trojan batter on a 4-3 groundout before Vaughn reached base on a throwing error. Greene then struck out the next batter on four pitches, and got Gibson to ground out 1-3 to end the game after 1:32 of playing time.
“I thought Madi and Michaela pitched well,” Renner noted. “They were throwing strikes for the most part, but Union County was hitting most of them where we couldn’t field them. The wind blowing out certainly didn’t help us today.”
New Castle hopes to get its bats going more when it travels to Connersville Monday evening.
“Today was just one game in a long season,” Renner added. “We’ll move on, work hard to play better in our next game, and see what happens.”