BEDFORD New Albany, needing a clutch hit in the Hoosier Hills Conference softball tournament semifinal, had faith in Fath.
Jena Fath, a left-handed slap hitter in the lead-off spot, dropped a two-out double into left field, driving in the only runs as the Bulldogs clipped Bedford North Lawrence 2-0 on Wednesday night. New Albany (12-6) advanced to the tournament championship to host Jennings County on Friday.
Locked in a tense pitcher’s duel, the Bulldogs finally scratched out a scoring opportunity – while getting only one ball out of the infield – and converted it. Brook McCoy opened the inning with a blooper that barely eluded BNL second baseman Haley Greer on the edge of the grass, and Hannah Morton dropped down a sacrifice bunt to advance the runner.
Meg Biggs followed with an infield single off the glove of BNL ace Rebecca Schoenung, and Hannah Veit bunted to send both runners into scoring position. That set the stage for Fath, who poked a liner into left for the game-winning runs.
That was all the working margin Whitney Atkins needed. The New Albany junior hurler allowed only five hits and wiggled out of BNL’s best scoring chance in the bottom of the sixth. Atkins, an emergency starter this season when Morton had to have hip surgery during the winter, has faced the Stars twice this season and has not surrendered a run in 12 innings.
She took her time, studying the card taped to her left wrist when the signals came from her dugout. She made the impatient Stars wait in the box before picking the right number on the card and the right spot in the strike zone. She didn’t walk a batter, and 60 of the 78 pitches she delivered were strikes.
“For not having pitched in three years, she has worked so hard on hitting her spots and mixing the pitches to keep them off balance,” New Albany coach Steve Belden said. “And she had some great defensive plays behind her.”
BNL (15-9) had a chance to respond. With one out in the sixth, Greer singled and Marissa Watson hammered a single to left. With one out, Atkins got Schoenung, the clean-up hitter, to pop up on the infield on a changeup, and Karissa Salm grounded out to third to end the threat.
“We had chances,” BNL coach Brad Gilbert said. “We just didn’t get the key hit. If somebody was going to beat us at home in this tournament, they were going to have to beat us, And New Albany did that. That’s the way it should be.”
New Albany, which has dedicated its season to the late Jacque Hunter (the former coach who established the program as a powerhouse in the 1980s), already owned an 11-0 win over the Stars.
“We knew the 11-0 was an aberration,” Belden said. “We knew it would be a tough game.”
Schoenung, who fired a five-inning perfect game last week against Seymour, struck out seven and allowed only four hits.
New Albany, which has won five conference championships, will play for its first HHC title since 2004. Jennings County conquered Floyd Central 5-4 in the opposite bracket.
“It would be something special,” Belden said.
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Justin Sokeland can be followed on Twitter at @golfguru55
New Albany 000 020 0 – 2 4 2
Bedford NL 000 000 0 – 0 5 1
WP – Whitney Atkins. LP – Rebecca Schoenung. 2B – Jena Fath (NA). Records – New Albany 12-6, Bedford NL 15-9