BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
NEW LONDON – Holy Trinity Catholic Head Coach Loren Menke kneeled with the sun setting behind the trees at the New London’s softball complex and told the HTC softball team seated on the soft grass that he was quite simply… very proud of them.
The rebooted Crusader varsity softball team was the first team to take the field for HTC in eight years. They finished 1-10 and 0-6 in the Southeast Iowa Superconference South division. The lone win came against Hillcrest Academy, the former Iowa Mennonite School in Kalona.
The season ended in an 11-1 five inning loss that fell apart in the fourth inning, when the Lady Tigers put up six runs on four hits and an error. HTC hurler, Mary Hellige, who threw every pitch this season for the Crusaders, had things in hand through three.
“I’ve been watching these girls since they were this high,” Menke said holding a hand out at his waste. “So for me it’s year-over-year growth, and I hope we have the same growth next year that we saw this year.”
“These girls were doing things in the field they couldn’t do last year. Catching balls, making plays, hitting balls they couldn’t hit. If you continue to see that kind of growth that’s the biggest thing.”
The Crusaders were doing those things the first three innings. Hellige mowed down the first three hitters, striking out all three on just twelve pitches.
Sophomore Raquel Schneider got things going in the first for the Crusaders with a hard single to center on a 1-2 pitch, but two ground outs and a strike out stranded her at second.
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In the top of the second, Kayla Box doubled the second pitch from Elly Manning into the right-center gap. After Haile Cain lined out to short, Laura Mehmert would ground out to third, but Box took off for third on the throw over.
Junior Sophie Reighard fired over to third to get Box on the play, but the throw sailed high and left into left field allowing Box to come around and score on the error.
Jenna DiPrima would single to center and Kelli Meierotto would follow with an infield single to shortstop moving DiPrima up with two outs, but Schneider would pop out to short to end the inning.
Hellige would coax three pop fly outs in the bottom of the second, but aside from a Hellige walk in the top of the third, the Crusaders could get anything going either.
Hellige would keep things in order through two outs in the bottom of the third, until Claire Jones would reach on a bunt. But Brooke Mueller would gun her down for the third out trying to swipe second.
Holy Trinity ran themselves out a potential big top of the 4th. Cain started with a single and advanced to second on wild pitch. Mehmert would then hit a ground ball to third that was bobbled by Sophie Mallot just enough for Mehmert to beat the throw.
With two on and no outs, DiPrima hit into a fielder’s choice force out at third, leaving two on with just one out. DiPrima would then get picked off at first. She initially was called safe on the play, but thought she was called out and stepped off the bag toward the dugout when Reighard tagged her out. Meierotto would strike out looking to end the inning.
The Tigers would blow the game open in the bottom of the fourth. Kara Krieger would single to open the frame and Hellige would hit Manning to put two on. Laney Loyd would pop out to third holding everyone in place, but a walk, an error on a grounder to second and another error at third quickly made it 2-1 game.
Reighard would hit into a RBI ground out back to Hellige who didn’t challenge Ashlyn McSurley at third instead opting for the sure out at first. Another infield error allowed a run to make it 4-1. Two singles and a walk followed and the Crusaders were in trouble down 6-1 before Manning ground out to third to end the inning.
HTC would go down in order in the fifth and New London would tack on another five runs in the bottom half. With two outs and the bases loaded Krieger would hit a pop fly to shallow left-center that Cain overran and the ball dropped over her head for two runs and a 10-1 lead.
Manning would then single to right scoring another run and invoking the 10-run rule.
“They got a couple key hits and we made some miscues and it kinda snowballed on us and we didn’t recover. We had way too many times this year where we had an inning like that.” Menke said.
“For me I think there was just a couple bad plays and that got in everyone’s heads, Then we hung our heads and couldn’t make the plays,” said sophomore shortstop Anna Sobczak.
Hellige said the score Monday night, and many times this season, didn’t tell the whole story.
“The way it looks, if you didn’t come to the games, it looks like we did really bad, but those were actually some close games. I feel like we’re gonna get better. Honestly, I’m a little disappointed, but we’re just starting,” she said.
“We got more experience and next year well come back and be stronger and more ready for these teams,” Sobczak said.
“We need more energy and not let it get in our heads. Just the next pitch.”
Schneider, Box, Meierotto, Cain and DiPrima all had hits for HTC. Box scored the only run for HTC. Hellige took the loss going all five and giving up 11 runs, none earned on seven hits and three walks. She struck out four.
Krieger led the Tigers going 2 for 4 with 2 RBI and a run scored. Manning went all five for New London giving up five hits and one earned run on a walk and two strikeouts.