SOFTBALL: Caston breaks through to win first sectional title in program history

May 26—FULTON — After a string of heartbreaking losses in sectional play in recent years, the talented group of Caston girls athletes broke through with a championship on Thursday.

The No. 7-ranked Lady Comets defeated Southwood 4-1 in the championship game of the Class A North Miami Sectional.

When the final out was recorded on a popup to second baseman Addison Zimpleman, it set off a celebration in the middle of the diamond that might have been the biggest in the state. It was the Comets' first sectional championship in program history.

"We've been so close these past couple years, we just had to get over that hump," Zimpleman said. "Now knowing we can get over that hump it's truly something special.

"It is time. We're here to make history and tonight just showed it. But we've just got to take one game at a time."

Kinzie Mollenkopf showed senior leadership in the sectional championship win. She was a young lady on a mission as she gave the Knights (13-6) almost no chance against her Comets (19-4).

"I'm just blown away that this is happening and I got to come out here and do this and just help my team out," she said. "It was a great team win."

Mollenkopf allowed one run on two hits and no walks, striking out 13 in a complete-game performance.

"We just threw a mixture of everything: screwballs, riseballs, curveballs, everything," she said. "I didn't throw a lot of changeups tonight because they were swinging and missing, but it just all worked out."

Mollenkopf also had a big game at the plate, going 3-for-3 with two doubles, two RBIs and a run scored.

"I wanted this to happen and my team wanted it to happen," she said. "Kudos to coach Burks for having us ready for tonight."

"She was on fire," Caston coach Jon Burks said of Mollenkopf. "Just a little dribbler was the only run they got out of it. I was honestly going to start Addison today. Kinzie came to me and said 'I want the ball.' 'You got it.' All that hard work she does and offensive-wise she was on fire too. She's been hitting the hell out of the ball lately and pitching really well. So we've got a little bit of rest for her so we'll go wherever we've got to go next. I'm not sure but I know it's north."

Caston will travel to Saturday's winner between Elkhart Christian Academy (9-8) and Fremont (11-12) on Tuesday evening for a one-game regional.

The Comets have been one of the best teams in the state all season and they showed it against the young but talented Knights.

Zimpleman, Mollenkopf and Kylee Logan had singles in the first inning for Caston. The Knights overthrew home plate on Logan's hit and Zimpleman scored on head's up base running for the game's first run.

A strong wind was blowing in which probably hurt the Comets overall but not when Annie Harsh lifted a high fly ball into the outfield that the wind played major tricks on as the ball fell in for a hit in short right allowing Mollenkopf to score from second with two outs making it a 2-0 game.

Macee Hinderlider was hit by a pitch with one out in the second and came around to score on a sac fly by Mollenkopf to make it 3-0.

The Knights didn't even make contact against Mollenkopf until the third when she got the leadoff hitter out on a bunt attempt. She did dial up her seventh strikeout of the game in the inning.

The Knights got their first hit of the game with one out in the fourth when the speedy Rowan Goodpasture hit a slow bouncer to shortstop Isabel Scales who just didn't have enough time to throw out Goodpasture at first. Goodpasture then stole second and scored on a perfectly placed bunt by Ashlynn Lambert that got past a charging second baseman Zimpleman allowing Goodpasture to score from second to make it 3-1.

But Mollenkopf got a strikeout and groundout to Scales to get out of the inning.

The Comets got the run right back in the bottom of the fourth. Scales hit a two-out single and stole second. Mollenkopf followed with an RBI double to left to make it 4-1.

The Comets held the lead from there. With the wind blowing in no play was routine but Bailey Harness made a nice running catch in center and Alexa Finke made a nice catch in the sun field in right for the first two outs of the sixth. Mollenkopf then dialed up another strikeout to end the inning.

The seventh started with back-to-back strikeouts followed with a popup to Zimpleman to start the celebration.

"I really don't know what to say right now," Zimpleman said. "It came down to every single person, including me, including Kinzie, including Belle, everyone.

"Even though maybe some of us didn't hit like we usually do, that's OK because other people carried us. It took literally everyone when I say it. And I felt like the innings went by fast, we just said, 'hey, we've got to get that first out every inning' and then we came to the seventh and it's like, 'oh wow, it's almost done, it's crazy.'"

Southwood freshman Natalie Sutphin held the high-scoring Comets to four runs (three earned) on nine hits, two walks and a hit batter, striking out two.

"She spinned the ball very well," Zimpleman said. "As a hitter their defense shifted. They saw that a couple of us were pulling the ball and they were a smart, good team and they should also be proud of themselves."

Southwood freshman center fielder Izzy Ashba also made some nice catches in the outfield to keep the Knights in it.

The Comets outhit the Knights 9-2. In addition to Mollenkopf's three hits, Harsh had two hits and Haley Logan, Kylee Logan, Scales and Zimpleman added a hit apiece.

The Knights knocked off No. 3 North Miami 7-2 on Monday and have a bright future. But the future is now for the Comets.

"It feels really good just to come out here and win and the community was all behind us," Mollenkopf said. "This is what we've been working for for so long and it happened so it felt really good."

The Comets have had school record breaking teams in softball, girls basketball and volleyball in recent years, but they came up short in sectional play before Thursday's win. While the losses hurt no doubt, they perhaps made the Comets better.

"The weight room has really helped us," Zimpleman said. "Everyone has hit the weight room hard. We're excited to see what else we can do."

Coach Burks was equal parts happy and relieved after the Comets won.

"That's just awesome. They work real hard at it," he said. "We get that trust, they're selfless, got grit and the competitiveness in them. The wind kind of hurt our big sticks a little bit, but other than that all I told them today was 'we hit the ball, put it in play, we'll be fine.' And that's what we did. I know it wasn't real high scoring but we did enough to get it done today. I'm just so proud of them."