Time to grind

Photo by Ben BachmannNew Prairie catcher Allison Pavlick hits one of her two doubles in the Cougars’ 10-3 win over South Bend Clay in a Class 3A South Bend St. Joseph Sectional opener Monday night in Lakeville.

LAKEVILLE — In the midst of a 3-3 game Monday night in New Prairie’s Class 3A South Bend St. Joseph Sectional opener against South Bend Clay, New Prairie catcher Allison Pavlick could sense the tension within her team.

“I think it was like in the third or fourth inning, somebody in the dugout ... I think it was Kylie Briner, that said, ‘Allison, I really need you to hit a dinger right now,’” Pavlick said with a laugh.

The call to action from the Cougars center fielder portrayed a pinch of foreshadowing, if not immediate, for Pavlick.

After lacing one of her two RBI doubles to tie the game 3-3 in the fourth, she stuck the metaphorical dagger in the Colonials’ season two innings later with a towering three-run shot to left center field that put the Cougars up 8-3. The blast followed back-to-back RBI hits from Karissa Gilpin (2-for-4, 2B, 3 RBI) and Amanda Trojanowski (2-for-4, RBI) in the fateful frame that carried New Prairie to a 10-3 victory at Newton Park.

“I didn’t get the bunt down on the first pitch and then I think Coach (Derek Hicks) gave me the fake bunt-hit sign or something. I might have missed the sign,” Pavlick said with a big smile. “I don’t think he can be too mad at me for hitting a homer after that.”

All told, Pavlick drove in five runs in her four at-bats with three extra base hits to help send the Cougars to the final against the winner of Wednesday’s matchup between 2018 Class 3A state runner-up St. Joseph and Mishawaka Marian, which hammered South Bend Washington 25-6 in Monday’s first game.

The Cougars pounded out 11 hits, and it was the meat of the order that really did the heavy lifting with the game still in the balance early. Gilpin, Trojanowski and Maddie McSurley (4-for-4, 3B) smacked the other eight hits, including three extra base hits. Gilpin got the hit party started with a frozen rope down the left field line in the top of the first that scored a pair.

“That team came ready to play,” Hicks said. “We beat them 6-0 last week, but that was not the team that we saw last week. It’s hard to believe that was the same team we just played. They could beat anybody here. Karissa striking out 14 for us is unbelievable. You don’t see that happen too often these days. We really have a solid lineup that can hit from top to bottom and even on the bench, we have girls that can really hit.”

Clay answered the hot N.P. start with a trio of runs in the first two frames, sparked by starting pitcher McKayla Noecker, who registered three of Clay’s eight hits, including a two-strike, two-run homer to spark the Colonials early on. Gilpin slammed the door shut on the Clay lineup for the remainder of the contest. From the third inning on, only one runner reached third base, which came during one of the key sequences.

Hayley Demler reached on a single and after Gilpin’s eighth strikeout in the fourth, Demler sprinted to third on a sacrifice bunt from Brook Osebaugh where the throw to first base reached Quinlan Eggert, who was backing up the play down the right field line. Pavlick pumped on a potential steal attempt by Osebaugh and fooled Demler, who got too far down the line and was tagged out from Pavlick’s throw down to McSurley. Gilpin fanned Alexis Love to end the threat.

After a quick fifth, the Cougars entered what they like to call “Grind Time” late in games. McSurley led off the big sixth with a slap triple to right center and scored on Gilpin’s second double, breaking the tie. Trojanowski drove Gilpin in with her second hit and after Lauren Fadke reached on a Noecker error, Pavlick drove the second pitch she saw almost into the bleachers that face a soccer field behind the fence in left center.

“Everybody follows after one person, so once one person gets it started for us, we all get it going,” Pavlick said. “It was good to get this win. This was a big win. We definitely need some practice in the next couple days just on some little things like fielding grounders and situational things, but we’ll be ready for whoever we get to play.”

“Grind Time” has become somewhat of a rallying cry for this year’s Cougars and with the postseason officially here, they have not embraced the tension the end of the year can bring, but rather embraced themselves as a team.

“It’s great to be playing still,” Hicks said. “Our goal is to play even past (Thursday). We’re not looking past that by any means, but we knew what we can do. One of the teams is state runner-up St. Joe, so you can’t be cocky going against that [laughs]. We feel good where we are. The girls are playing well, we’re right back where we were last year (in the title game) and they’re feeding off each other.”

Class 3A South Bend St. Joseph Sectional

New Prairie 10, South Bend Clay 3

Cougars catcher Allison Pavlick drove in five runs and Karissa Gilpin fanned 14.

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