By Josh Brown
GREENVILLE — Having faced Parkway’s Haley Hawk during the regular season, the Newton softball team thought it knew what to expect.
But Hawk and the Panthers showed them something new.
Hawk held a potent Indian lineup in check all day, allowing only five hits and two runs on the mound, and she created chaos at the plate with her mere presence, too, drawing five intentional walks in five trips to the plate as Parkway pounded out 13 hits on the day, including a three-run homer in the top of the seventh to seal a 12-2 victory in the Division IV regional semifinal round Wednesday at Greenville, ending Newton’s season at 19-6.
Parkway, which improved to 21-4 and will face Bradford in Saturday’s regional final, also defeated the Indians during the regular season — but in a much different game, as Newton’s offense got to Hawk in an 8-7 loss at Parkway back on April 6. But Newton coach Mark Gibson said that Hawk looked completely different on Wednesday.
“We saw Haley the first time we played them, too. She pitched a decent game that time, but we still scored seven runs,” Gibson said. “I’ll be totally honest with you — totally different pitcher today. She was dominant, and she was moving the ball well.”
Hawk struck out four and walked two, giving up only two third-inning runs, but by the time Newton — a team that had hit two home runs and scored nine runs in its district final win — got on the board, the Panthers had already scored five in their half of the third and continued to pull away from there.
And while Hawk is a solid pitcher, she is also arguably the most dangerous hitter in Ohio softball history, having set the all-time record for career RBIs. And Newton went into Wednesday’s game determined not to let her hurt them directly at the plate, intentionally walking her every trip up.
“She didn’t hurt us at the plate, because we walked her every time,” Gibson said. “That was definitely in the gameplan that we weren’t pitching to her — and that’s out of respect. It’s not disrespecting the rest of their lineup. It’s purely out of respect for her. She’s got the all-time Ohio record for RBIs, so … if it’s not going to hurt you, if you have an open base and it’s not bases loaded, you’re putting her on.”
And while Parkway capitalized on that strategy throughout the game, with the pinch runner in Hawk’s spot scoring three out of five times on base, it stung most in the top of the seventh.
With the Panthers already up 8-2, a one-out single and an intentional walk to Hawk put two runners on — and Bailey Bates launched the first pitch she saw over the fence in left for a three-run homer to all but ice the win.
“Of course, as a coach, you look at that and say well, I put her on and the batter behind her puts one over the left-field fence,” Gibson said. “But that batter, their No. 4 hitter, did her job, and that’s what the person in that spot in the order is supposed to do, make us pay. Which, it is what it is.”
Early on, though, the Indians found their way out of trouble.
After a leadoff single, a sac bunt and an intentional walk put two runners on in the first inning, Bates knocked a single to left field — only to have Newton’s Brooke Deeter gun out the runner trying to score from second base, keeping the game scoreless after one inning.
“That’s three games in a row we’ve had an outfield assist at home plate,” Gibson said. “In the Russia game, I think it came from center. In the Fayetteville Perry game, it came from right field and today it came from left. So every outfielder has had an assist at home plate.
“That’s a huge play in the first inning, and we got out of a jam in the second, too. But they put pressure on us the whole game. And like I told the girls, you can’t give up free bases. We gave up too many in terms of walks or hit-batters. When you do that, it’s hard against a lineup like that because they’re so powerful all the way through.”
With the score still tied 0-0 after two, the Panthers finally got on the board in the third. A one-out single by Mackenzie Sipe got things going, then the Indians intentionally walked Hawk to put two on. Bates drew a walk to load the bases, then Bailey Strickler was hit by a pitch to bring in the game’s first run. Lauren Henderson then drew an RBI walk, Alyssa Miller ripped a two-run single back up the middle and one final run scored on a wild pitch, putting Parkway up 5-0.
Newton responded in the bottom of the inning. Brooke Deeter led off with a single and Kara Chaney planted an RBI triple under the right fielder’s glove to get the Indians on the board, then she scored on an RBI groundout by Baily Chaney to cut the lead to three. From there, though, Newton left five runners stranded the rest of the way, three in scoring position, and couldn’t string together any offense the rest of the way.
Parkway, meanwhile, added another run in the fourth on another bases-loaded RBI walk by Henderson, then Macy Henkle hit an RBI double and another run scored on an error in the fifth to make it 8-2. And after Bates’ three-run blast in the seventh, Mckenna Temple added an RBI double to make it a 12-2 game.
Kristen Rappold and Erin Norman pitched for the Indians, with Rappold walking five, hitting one and giving up four hits and five runs in 2 1-3 innings, while Norman struck out three, walked four and gave up nine hits and seven runs in 4 2-3 innings.
Still, it was a successful season for the Indians, who won the Cross County Conference championship outright — the team’s 11th league title — and claimed their 10th district title.
“Our seniors, when I came here three years ago and took over the program, that was the group that was either going to buy in or run me out of town,” Gibson said. “And thank God they bought in to what I was trying to bring to the program, and what they’ve given this program for four years is something that, I don’t think they realize, but our program will feel their impact for a long time. We’re really going to miss those four — Kristen Rappold, Kylee Fisher, Kacie Tackett and Maddi Weaver — a lot. And Haley Pack, who ran into some issues late in the season and didn’t finish the season with us, we’re going to miss her, too. She was a big part of our program for three years and most of this one.
“We’re going to miss all five of them. It’s a big blow to our program, but I think they’ve taught our younger players a lot about how to play the game and what our program is about, and I know that these younger players will carry that on.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.