by Beau Wicker
ROYAL CENTER —
Pioneer’s softball team certainly didn’t need any help to win a third straight regional title.
But Kouts pitchers gave the Panthers plenty via a multitude of walks.
The end result was an easy 10-0 win in five innings for the Panthers, who simply overmatched the Mustangs Wednesday at Herk Hoffman Field.
“We think we’re the first team in school history to win three regionals in a row in any sport,” Pioneer coach John Bingaman said. “We’re excited about that.”
The Panthers (24-6) jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first inning and ace Betsy Bingaman wasn’t going to let the Mustangs (10-14) back into the game. The senior right-hander fired a three-hit shutout, with only one of the hits leaving the infield. She struck out nine of the 16 batters she faced.
“I was a little worried since I hadn’t pitched in about a week, but I got it done,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Panthers managed to score 10 runs on just six hits, as Kouts handed out 10 free passes in the five-inning game — nine walks and one hit batsman.
Lindsey Miller got the scoring started in the first for the Panthers with a two-run home run that was a no-doubter over the left-field fence. Jessica Price added an RBI walk, and Brooklyn Mehrley’s sacrifice fly gave the Panthers an early 4-0 lead.
Pioneer struck for six more runs in the third. Riley Morris had an RBI single, Betsy Bingaman and Katie Bingaman drew back-to-back RBI walks before Kayte Miller and Jennifer Hughes had back-to-back RBI singles.
“We did a lot better job of being patient, which we had some trouble with in the sectional in the beginning at least,” Betsy Bingaman said.
John Bingaman said the scouting report showed that Kouts pitchers struggled with their control at times, so patience at the plate was in the gameplan.
“We figured that out, just be patient and hit your pitch,” he said. “We were disciplined, that’s the good thing.
“You can’t control who you play, you can control how you play and that’s what I’m impressed about.”
The Panthers face defending Class A state champion and No. 1-ranked Lakewood Park Christian (26-2), a powerhouse from the Fort Wayne area, at 4 p.m. Saturday at the Clinton Prairie Semistate. LPC’s only two losses this year were to Bishop Dwenger and Huntington North in April.
“Lakewood Park Christian’s a different beast,” John Bingaman said. “The nice thing is I’m glad we got it in today, so it’s going to be nice to have two days to practice and prepare.
“They’re solid. I do think if anybody can beat them in 1A, it’s us. We’re going to have to play pretty good defense, get a good pitching performance and have to put the ball in play and execute and score runners when we get them on base. They haven’t given up any runs in the tournament so far. I think they’ve outscored their opponent 64-0 in four games.”
The No. 5-ranked Panthers enter the semistate with confidence. They faced Lakewood Park two years ago in the semistate final and lost just 3-0 in a very close game.
“It’s not who we play, it’s how we play,” Betsy Bingaman said.
The Panthers are led by seniors Betsy Bingaman, Lindsey Miller, Hughes and Price, and they’re hoping this is their year.
“The seniors have worked and worked and worked,” Betsy Bingaman said. “I know we deserve this, to be on top like we are now.”
In the 2 p.m. semifinal of the semistate, No. 7 Frontier (24-8) will face Randolph Southern (12-12). The final is set for 8 p.m. Saturday night.