BY WILL WILLEMS – SPORTS EDITOR
CRAWFORDSVILLE — Sometimes after a big sectional win, a team can relax in the next game and find themselves quickly eliminated.
The Western Boone softball team made sure that didn’t happen to them on Tuesday night. The Stars put together a strong all-around performance against Frankfort, topping the Hot Dogs 5-1 to advance to Wednesday night’s sectional title game.
“I was definitely afraid that after beating Lebanon that we would feel like we accomplished everything,” Western Boone head coach Mike Vanderpool said. “I am just so proud of the girls and the way the played tonight. A lot of times you get that big win and relax, but our girls didn’t. Our girls want this championship. They are focused and they are coming together at the right time.”
Western Boone lost to the Hot Dogs twice just a couple of weeks ago giving up 16 runs in the two games.
But thanks to a strong pitching performance by Paige Poole, the Hot Dogs were unable to get their bats going like they did in that game.
“Frankfort is a very good team,” Vanderpool said. “They hit us hard both times we played them. Paige did a fantastic job and so did our defense, turning two double plays. Paige kept us in the game when we were hitting. To allow just one run against a team that had been lighting teams up was great.”
The Hot Dogs threatened just twice in the game.
In the first inning, the Hot Dogs put runners on the corners with one out, but Poole induced a pop out to end the inning.
In the fourth, the Hot Dogs got back-to-back doubles from Ashley Mullins and Ashlyn Orem to get on the board. Kyree Shelley singled to put runners on the corners with no outs, but Frankfort couldn’t score any more runs.
After that, Poole allowed just one hit and a runner didn’t reach second base until two outs in the seventh inning.
“I think that is the best she has pitched all year,” Vanderpool said. “She was able tokeep the ball down. They are a good hitting team and I think that was the best she has looked all year.”
Trailing 1-0 heading to the bottom of the fourth, the Stars tied the game on Ashley Burns RBI-ground out that scored Taylor Vanderpool.
Western Boone then took the lead in the fifth.
With two outs, Julia Hole drew a walk to bring up No. 9 hitter Sam Thompson.
After Hole stole second, Thompson singled to drive in Hole with a single to make it a 2-1 game.
It was the second-straight day that the bottom of the Stars’ lineup, a group that struggled at the end of the season, came through with clutch hits.
“I wish I knew what they were doing differently because I would have told them to do it earlier in the season,” Vanderpool joked. “I just think they are keeping their composure. They are coming together at the right time and the chemistry is coming together.”
The Stars were able to put the game away in the sixth.
Poole singled with one out and Burns followed with a double to put runners on second and third with one out.
Camryn Savage followed with a routine grounder to third, but the throw was wide and Hot Dog first baseman Carson Hackerd dropped the ball trying to apply a tag, allowing courtesy runner Korri Hawkins to score.
After a ground out, Olivia Hole ripped a double down the left-field line that allowed two big insurance runs to score.
Hole, one of the heroes of Monday’s upset win against Lebanon, is 3-of-7 in the sectional with two doubles and five RBIs.
“She has been huge for us,” Vanderpool said. “Getting that big hit yesterday and that double tonight was big. I felt like that was a game changer. Olivia Hole has come through big for us. She rises to the occasion when she has to. She has a beautiful swing. She had just been getting under it a little bit this year. She has just a little bit to work on and then she will be a fantastic player.”
After that the Stars were just three outs away from the sectional title game and Poole worked around a lead-off walk to get that done.
Western Boone had the toughest road to get to the sectional title game, facing the top two teams in the Sagamore Conference — and two teams that they went 0-4 against in the regular season.
Now that they have avenged those losses, Vanderpool said the focus turns to the ultimate prize.
“The kids are fired out and the sectional championship is really close,” Vanderpool said. “We had the hardest road through this and now we have one more game. We aren’t taking it lightly and we want to finish it out.”
The Stars will be looking for their 13th sectional title all time and first since 2006.
They will play Crawfordsville, who topped North Montgomery in the other semifinal on Tuesday.
Western Boone had no problems in the regular season against the Athenians, but Vanderpool said the Stars know they have to be ready to play.
“We have to stay focused,” Vanderpool said. “We have to make the routine plays and take it one out at a time.”
First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Crawfordsville.
WESTERN BOONE’S Taylor Vanderpool, left, and Alayna Raby smile as they run off the field after completing a double play in the sixth inning Tuesday night.
Will Willems | The Lebanon Reporter
WESTERN BOONE SENIOR PAIGE POOLE delivers a pitch in the second inning Tuesday. Poole allowed just five hits and one run to help lead the Stars to the sectional title game.
Will Willems | The Lebanon Reporter
THE STARS’ ASHLEY BURNS connects with an RBIground out that scored the tying run in the fourth inning Tuesday.