By Rob Kiser
MIDDLETOWN — Newton softball coach Mark Gibson didn’t know what to expect from first baseman Kacie Tackett before the game Monday as the Indians played Fayetteville Perry for a Division IV district title at Lefferson Park.
“I don’t know how much she told you,” Gibson said. “But she was not feeling good at all before the game and throwing up. But she is a senior and a leader. You have to play her.”
He certainly didn’t expect Tackett to pave the way to a 9-1 district title win — the Indians’ first since 2015.
Newton (19-5) will play Parkway in a D-IV regional semifinal at 2 p.m. Wednesday at Greenville — with Bradford and Mechanicsburg playing in the other semifinal at 5 p.m.
“Wow, what a performance,” Gibson said about Tackett’s first two at-bats. “What can you say? You need seniors to step up in big games, and she really did.”
Tackett had a two-out, two-run single in the first and added a solo homer in the fourth to give the Indians a 3-1 lead they never relinquished.
“I was throwing up before the game,” Tackett said. “I didn’t feel well at all. I don’t know how I did it. I really can’t explain it.’
It looked like Perry pitcher Paige Vivens might escape a jam with runners on second and third and one out in the first.
Baily Chaney singled and pitcher Kristen Rappold walked. After Marissa Deeter ran for Rappold, the runners moved up to second and third on Mallory Dunlevy’s fielder’s choice.
After a pop-up to the catcher, Tackett stepped to the plate.
“It is not like I was swinging for the fences,” Tackett said. “We needed to get runs on the board, so I thought let’s just make contact and put the ball in play.”
She drove a single to right field, with both runners scoring.
“What an at-bat,” Gibson said. “I think she even went to the opposite field with it.”
Perry nearly tied the game in the top of the third with the first of two Newton “web gems.”
Zoe Vivens singled and Alyssa Robinson and Paige Vivens walked to load the bases with no outs. Rappold got a strikeout of dangerous cleanup hitter Taylor Mechlin, before Gabby Jones drilled a single to right field. Zoe Vivens scored, but Robinson was cut down on a strike from Ashlyn Deeter to catcher Maddi Weaver for the second out, and the next batter grounded out to end the threat.
“If Ashlyn (Deeter) doesn’t make that throw and Maddi (Weaver) doesn’t snag it and make the tag, it is a tie game,” Gibson said. “Who knows what happens then?”
In the home fourth, Tackett sent a ball over the fence for a home run to make it 3-1.
“That felt pretty good,” Tackett said.
In the top of the fifth, Fayetteville had a walk by Jones and singles by Paige Vivens and Mechlin to again load the bases with no outs.
After Rappold got a strikeout, the Breanna Fay hit a shot back at her. Rappold threw to Weaver at home and Weaver completed the double play with a throw to Tackett at first — as simple as 1-2-3.
“That is something routine you work on in practice all the time,” Gibson said. “To be able to execute it in that situation, that was big.”
Newton used another longball to play add-on in the fifth.
After a single by Dunlevy, Kylee Fisher launched a ball over the fence to make it 5-1 — her second straight game with a homer.
“I knew it was out when I hit it,” Fisher said about her fifth home run of the season.
Gibson was not surprised.
“It was good to see,” he said. “Kylee (Fisher) was just named first team All-Ohio. You never know how a player is going to respond to receiving an honor like that.”
The Indians added four more runs in the sixth to make the final 9-1.
Baily Chaney singled and hustled around the bases, scoring on a throwing error. Erin Norman walked and Marissa Chaney again ran for her. She circled the bases when Dunlevy’s single was misplayed in the outfield, and Fisher and Tackett added RBI singles — as the duo combined for seven RBIs in the game.
While Newton had 11 hits off Paige Vivens and Mechlin, walking three times and striking out twice — Rappold and Norman limited the Rockets to seven hits.
Rappold struck out four and walked three over the first five innings, while Norman struck out two and walked one in the final two innings.
“Right now, I feel like those two are interchangeable,” Gibson said. “I feel like that is a big advantage going into the Parkway game.”
The Indians lost to the Panthers 8-7 earlier this season.
“It was about 22 degrees out,” Gibson said. “They won on a walk-off single. We are looking forward to another shot at them.”
And Gibson hopes Tackett and the Indians will again exceed his expectations.
Rob Kiser can be reached at (937) 451-3334.