The streak ends
MISHAWAKA — The last time the Penn Kingsmen softball program lost a Northern Indiana Conference contest, Carli Tharp was in the fourth grade and Karissa Gilpin was still three years away from attending New Prairie High School as a sixth-grader back in the 2013-14 school year.
The freshman Tharp drove in a massive insurance run with two outs in the bottom half of the sixth inning on Wednesday and the junior Gilpin threw a complete game five-hitter on 77 pitches in the Cougars’ 2-0 victory over the Kingsmen that snapped their 49-game regular season NIC win streak. The home-away-from-home matchup was moved to Penn due to field conditions at New Prairie.
“I honestly don’t know the last time they lost a conference game,” Cougars coach Derek Hicks said. “This was a great win for us. We’ve lost quite a few one-run games (three of their five losses to be exact) this season and this one was a two-run game of course, but this was a game that we felt we could win and I was really happy we finally pulled a close one out.”
Gilpin, who didn’t practice on Tuesday afternoon due to a severe migraine that forced her to watch her team from the bleachers in the New Prairie gym, gave up a two-out triple to Penn shortstop Brenna Brown (2-for-3), but didn’t allow another runner to third base for the rest of the contest.
“Honestly, I don’t even think I pitched that well,” Gilpin said with a little laugh. “Maybe it’s just me. I was really happy with our defense because we played great and I’m happy we got the win, but I thought I could’ve been a little better today.”
High expectations of herself or not, Gilpin wasn’t wrong with her team’s showing on the defensive side of the ballgame. The Cougars committed zero errors and Allison Pavlick gunned down Brown after her second hit in two at-bats with one down in the fourth inning.
“I feel like toward more here at the end of the year, we’ve found more of a rhythm,” Tharp said on her team’s performance. “We know where everybody fits and we’re playing really good with who we have out here now. We just connect really well together.”
Gilpin helped get the Cougars on the board first in the fourth with a towering double to left field that just stayed in the park down the line. Her courtesy runner, sophomore Megan Pinter, advanced on a bloop single to left from Maddie McSurley to put runners on the corners with one down. A passed ball one pitch later to Amanda Trojanowski from Kingsmen starter Mackenzie Griman scored Pinter to make it 1-0 Cougars.
After just 11 pitches in the fifth and sixth innings that included three lazy flyouts and two groundballs to Alyssa Forys at shortstop, Gilpin and NP got a key break when leadoff hitter Gabby Cortier left first base early on a bunt attempt from No. 3 hitter Ryleigh Langwell.
“She was huge for us today,” Hicks said of his pitcher. “We ride her all the time pitching and at the plate. She was so sick yesterday that she couldn’t even practice yesterday in the gym. To come back and put on a performance like that after being sick, she can be sick before every game if she wants [laughs].”
Gilpin got the insurance run from Tharp’s single that just skipped past Brown at short to score Lauren Wilcoxson, who laced a leadoff single, and double the Cougars’ advantage in the bottom half of the frame.
“This was certainly our biggest win of the year,” Hicks said, noting his team’s minor hiccups recently on defense. “That was one of our best defensive games of the season and we needed to play perfect on defense like that or we don’t beat a great team like this one is. It’s definitely a huge deal for us.”
Reach Michael Whitlow at firstname.lastname@example.org or (219) 214-4169. Follow him on Twitter @couldbelikemike.
New Prairie 2, Penn 0
Karissa Gilpin tossed a five-hit shutout for N.P.