By KEVIN HARRIS
The Providence softball team’s sectional-championship drought has finally come to an end.
The Pioneers scored four runs in the top of the first inning and fended off Paoli to win the Class 2A Crawford County Sectional on Thursday night, 6-4. It was Providence’s second sectional title in program history, with the first crown coming in 2005 when the Pioneers reached the Class 2A state finals.
“It means a lot,” sixth-year Providence head coach Sean Payne said. “This sectional is for all the girls who came in with me.”
Providence (18-12) will visit Switzerland County or South Ripley in Tuesday’s Class 2A regional.
The first four Pioneer batters came out swinging in the opening frame.
Junior second baseman Morgan Boone led off the game with a single into center field. Boone then beat the throw to second base on a Jordyn Stengel fielder’s choice, followed by a base hit from senior catcher Adrienne Voelker to load the bases.
The next batter, senior Morgan Habermel, put Providence on the board with a two-run double to plate Boone and Stengel.
After senior Taylor Rockey popped out to shortstop, freshman designated player Lillian Hughes drilled a single up the middle to knock in courtesy runner Baylie Sprague and Habermel to extend the Pioneers’ lead to 4-0.
Payne said his players wanted to get off to a fast start since they were the visiting team on the scoreboard.
“That’s what we talked to them about before the game,” Payne said. “They like being the away team for some reason.”
Providence held the 4-0 advantage until the bottom of the fourth when the Rams (16-12) scored their first run. With the bases loaded and two out, Pioneer relief pitcher Sierra Collett walked Paoli’s Jessica Buchanan to drive in Lindsey Kloss.
But Providence responded with two runs in the top of the fifth. With runners on first and second with one out, Hughes smacked an opposite-field triple to right to plate courtesy runner Jessica Payne and Rockey to give the Pioneers a 6-1 lead.
Paoli made things interesting in the final two innings. The Rams sliced their deficit to 6-2 in the bottom of the sixth when Stephanie Moore came home from third on a wild pitch.
Paoli tacked on two more runs in the bottom of the seventh. Senior Tasha Tedrow collected a one-out RBI single to pull the Rams within three at 6-3. Then Morgan Kingston scored from third on a fielder’s choice to trim Paoli’s deficit to 6-4.
But the Pioneers sewed up the sectional title when Collett struck out Ashley Forbes and Moore grounded out to second.
Coach Payne said he was getting a little worried about the Rams’ rally in the seventh.
“I’d say I was somewhat concerned, but I had confidence in Sierra shutting the door,” the Providence manager said. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit nervous.”
Hughes ended up going 2-for-3 with four RBIs, while Boone and Voelker each were 2-for-4.
Providence used three pitchers with Collett getting the victory. Collett entered the game in two different instances. She relieved starting pitcher Meredith Endris in the fourth, pitching three innings. During that stint, Collett gave up one run (earned) on one hit with four strikeouts and two walks.
In the bottom of the seventh, Collett relieved Kristan Markland with one out. Collett faced four batters in her second stint, as she gave up a hit and struck out one. In three-plus innings, Endris allowed one run (earned) on no hits, with two walks, a strikeout and a hit batsman.
Paoli did not get its first hit until the bottom of the sixth when Moore smacked a double. The Rams only had three hits.
The Pioneers backed up their pitchers with some great defense. Providence committed no errors after making seven in its 7-4 regular-season loss to the Rams on April 20.
“I’m happy with the girls’ execution on defense,” Coach Payne said.
PROVIDENCE 400 002 0—6 10 0
PAOLI 000 101 2—4 3 1
W — Collett (9-5). L — Pigg. 2B — Habermel (Pr), Moore (Pa). 3B — Hughes (Pr).
Records — Providence 18-12, Paoli 16-12.