Bulldogs unseat Arabians for first county softball championship

Apr. 13—PENDLETON — If ever there were a proper setting for the classic David vs. Goliath scenario, Saturday's Madison County softball championship may have been it.

Pendleton Heights entered as the dominant force over the history of the tournament. The Arabians won six in a row by an average margin of 10 runs and 13 of the 16 tournaments played while coming off a trip to the Class 4A final four a year ago.

Their opponent Saturday was 2A Lapel, which had never won the tournament and — despite seven third-place finishes — was making just its second appearance in the championship game and the first since a 5-4 loss to — naturally — Pendleton Heights in 2015.

When a story is framed as a David and Goliath battle, one can usually guess how it turned out.

Senior Krystin Davis provided the spark, freshman Ava Zdanowski added a clutch pitching magical act with the game on the line and the Bulldogs got contributions from all points in their lineup as Lapel held off Pendleton Heights 8-6 at Legends Field, earning the school's first Madson County softball championship.

What little voice first-year Lapel coach A.J. Balser had left was used to shower praise upon the Bulldogs in pulling off the biggest Madison County upset of the week.

"It's huge. I'm at a loss for words right now. It was an up-and-down game, and we just stuck with it," he said. "I have to give credit to my pitching staff. We used three pitchers in that game, and all three mattered."

The title also realized a goal for Davis, the team's lone senior who started at shortstop, pitched some key innings and delivered three hits, scored three times and drove in a pair against Pendleton Heights (4-4).

"It's really amazing. It has started our season and will keep us rolling," she said.

"I'm so proud of K.D. She's a workhorse, and she doesn't quit," Balser added. "She had a big triple early in the game and came in and pitched — she's only pitched one inning this year — and she came in big."

One of the fastest players in the area, Davis put that particular skill to use and single-handedly put the Bulldogs on the board first when she tripled with two outs in the third inning and scored on a throwing error for a 1-0 lead.

That was a big early boost to the confidence for Lapel (7-2) in its quest for the upset.

"I think that really lifted up our spirits," Davis said. "We scored that (first) run, and that really amped us."

Lapel starting pitcher Karlie Jannings blanked the Arabians through three innings, but the PH batters began timing her up in the fourth.

Katelin Goodwin led off that inning with a solo home run to right to tie the game, and one out later, a double by Skylar Baldwin was followed by a two-run homer by Alana Smith to left to put the Arabians up 3-1. Balser then brought Davis in to pitch, and the senior finished the inning and shut out the Arabians in the fifth and sixth.

Her performance in the circle gave the Bulldogs all the time they needed to reverse course and punch back offensively.

That response to the Arabians' rally came quickly, and Davis was in the middle of it.

Jannings led off with a walk and was bunted into scoring position by Ella Reed. Davis singled, moving Jannings to third, and stole second. Paige Stires delivered both runners home with a line-drive single to left to tie the game at 3-3. Stires scored the go-ahead run one out later on a double to left-center by Laylah Gore.

The fact Lapel rallied immediately after PH took the lead was important. It kept the Lapel confidence high and prevented the Arabians from settling in and taking control.

"We told the girls one inning at a time and we would get the win," Balser said. "That was what mattered. It was a team effort all the way around."

And the Bulldogs were not done rallying.

After Davis retired the Arabians quietly, Lapel put four more runs on the board in the sixth to seemingly take firm control of the game.

The first three Bulldogs to bat in the inning reached as Addie Bodenhorn singled, Delaney Balser walked and Jannings lofted a double to deep right. On the double, Bodenhorn was thrown out trying to score on a perfect relay from Baldwin.

PH pitcher Morgan Humble struck out Reed for the second out, but the top third of the lineup connected for three straight two-out hits. Davis singled in two runs before Stires and Tatum Harper drove in one each, and suddenly the Bulldogs had an 8-3 lead.

The score remained that way until the Arabians batted in the bottom of the seventh and finally began stringing hits together against Davis.

Avry Miller doubled, and Gracie Fisher singled before Kiah Hubble drew a walk to load the bases. Ari Rector singled in one run before Goodwin doubled to deep center to drive in a pair, trimming the lead to 8-6.

More precarious still, Goodwin now represented the tying run and stood at second base with nobody out and the cleanup hitter, Kelsey Day, coming up.

That is when Balser headed to the circle and had Davis hand the ball to Zdanowski, the freshman who pitched three shutout innings in Lapel's semifinal win over Anderson earlier in the day.

"I had to believe in her. She's such a good pitcher," Davis said. "Even though she's a freshman, she has that mentality that she can do it."

It wasn't just that she "can" do it, it was that she wanted to be in that situation.

"Krystin did a great job, but we just needed to make a switch," Zdanowski said. "Coach looked and me and said, 'Do you want (the ball)?' And I said 'Yeah' because I really wanted to jump at this opportunity and prove — kind of to myself — that I belong out there."

The freshman recorded a big out on the first pitch as she induced Day — who nearly hit for the cycle earlier in the day — to pop out to the pitcher. Then Baldwin was called out for interference when she ran into Zdanowski, who was trying to catch Baldwin's pop up near the first-base line.

With the runners still at second and third, the dangerous Smith came to the plate. Zdanowski worked carefully, building a 2-2 count before freezing the Earlham commit with a pitch on the inner half of the plate for Strike 3 and the final out of the game, sending the Bulldogs into a jubilant celebration.

"I was so excited, and I was so excited for the team," Zdanowski said. "Winning county is such a big deal, especially for Lapel, a little tiny school, to beat Pendleton."

"It's a lot of pressure on a freshman, and it's a lot of pressure on all of our girls," Balser said. "But we have six pitchers, and I told them I'd pitch all six if we have to."

Denied a seventh straight championship and 14th overall, PH coach Rob Davis tipped his cap to the way Lapel played, but added his team did not play well enough to win it.

"I give Lapel all the credit in the world. They put pressure on us, and they came out and competed," he said. "They wanted it, and we were a little weak on that part of it today."

Contact Rob Hunt at or 765-640-4886.