FORT BRANCH, Ind. — Gibson Southern coach Gary May stopped short of calling it motivation. He still made sure to drive the point home.
May reminded his team on Wednesday, after a semifinal victory, that this season wasn’t dissimilar to last year. A lot of wins. A lot of talent. The same aspirations that accompany wearing the uniform. But last spring came to an abrupt halt during the first week of the state tournament.
What happened next would determine whether this season was better. And his team answered.
No. 2 Gibson Southern defeated Memorial 12-0 in five innings to win the Class 3A sectional championship on Thursday. The Titans put a 10-spot on the scoreboard in the first. The title was won then and there.
IHSAA softball: Check out the softball sectional scores for Southwestern Indiana
“They look for something they can hit,” said May. “They’ve really bought into being very selective at the plate. I told the kids yesterday there’d be 15-mile-per-hour wind straight in from center. Use the ground and line drives. I wish it was that easy.”
There is the biggest takeaway with this group: This offense remains elite despite who isn’t here.
Gibson Southern was a home-run machine the past two seasons with 44 in 2021 and 40 last spring. Most of those sluggers, including career program leader Brenna Blume, have since graduated. Thus, this group would be different by design. That doesn’t mean worse.
The Titans (26-4) average 8.9 runs per game. The home runs have been cut in half, but this roster is built for contact and aggressive base running. And as May said, this lineup is smart at the plate. Gibson Southern has scored double-digit runs 13 times. One could argue there aren’t any easy outs.
The program reloaded. Full stop.
“We’ve all learned to stay disciplined,” said Southern Indiana signee Sydney Long. “As the season went along, we’ve all dialed in. Even though we don’t have as much power, we have doubles and a lot of singles that get us places. We’re able to use the small ball.”
Memorial (13-13) felt it in the opening inning of the championship game. Lauryn Adamson doubled home a pair. Alexis Tucker hit a two-run opposite-field bomb well past the fence. That came in just the first four at-bats.
The Titans sent 15 batters to the plate. The Tigers even tried changing pitchers. The lineup was too locked in. Long added a two-run single. Adamson hammered a three-run blast to left. Ten runs.
Gibson Southern also stole eight bases in the championship to crack triple digits for the season. Adamson totaled six RBI, while Long had two hits and swiped three bags.
“The girls all believe in each other,” said Adamson. “That first inning we really want to build up our confidence. Once Sydney and EmmaLee (Higgs) start going, it keeps going through the lineup. We continue to see and work for the finish line rather than looking over it. We had to see it to the finish.”
Perhaps the one difference from last season is consistent pitching. Alexis Tucker fought a forearm injury last year that possibly hampered her more than anticipated during the season. She later broke it in basketball and was sidelined six weeks.
The chance to completely heal was a blessing for this spring. The senior has a sub-1.00 earned run average with 136 strikeouts in 107 innings. Tucker had a no-hitter going against Memorial before a Josie Merkel single with one out in the fifth.
“She’s been lights out all year,” said May. “I didn't realize (the injury) was affecting her as much as it was. She's throwing at a different level this year.”
Memorial couldn’t answer the 10-run barrage in the first. But with a roster led by juniors and sophomores, with more reinforcements on the way, the program remains in a good spot moving forward.
Gibson Southern travels to Jasper (15-11) for the regional on Tuesday. The Wildcats were a surprise winner in the other 3A area sectional, rallying from eight runs down to beat No. 13 Heritage Hills 15-14. Elise Lampert hit a go-ahead double in the seventh.
Being in this position is expected from the Titans. But this proud program knows how much it takes every year to accomplish. That’s how disappointing the loss was a year ago to eventual regional champion Pike Central in the sectional final. May admits it took him a month to get past it.
Motivation or not, this group was determined not to let this season play out the same way.
“Nothing is guaranteed,” said Long. “We saw that last year. Everybody that returned, we knew we had to be ready to go. No matter who we’re playing, it’s always 110 percent. We have to play to our level.”
Follow Courier & Press sports reporter Kyle Sokeland on Twitter @kylesokeland.
This article originally appeared on Evansville Courier & Press: IHSAA softball: Gibson Southern beats Memorial in 3A sectional