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SOFTBALL: Panthers reach Class 3A Final 4

Jun. 2—MONTICELLO — Western's softball team rocked Norwell for eight runs in the first two innings to set the foundation for a 12-5 victory in the Class 3A North Semistate opener on Saturday at Twin Lakes.

No. 2-ranked Western (27-2) advanced to face No. 3 New Prairie (22-6) in the semistate final, which was scheduled for Saturday night, but postponed because of rain and rescheduled for 5 p.m. Monday. New Prairie, which is the defending state champion, beat Leo 16-1 in the second semifinal.

Monday's winner advances to the State Finals.

Western seized control against Norwell (18-8) in the first inning. In the top of the frame, Western pitcher Kylie Miller retired the side in order. In the bottom of the frame, the Panthers used a blend of expected power and unexpected pop to score six runs.

"The girls were ready to go from the get-go," Western coach Bart Miller said.

Miller led off the bottom of the first with a walk and Chloe Hunt reached on an error. No. 3 hitter Brynley Erb followed with a monster home run over the scoreboard in left-center field — her 13th homer of the season and 34th of her career. Chloe Linn kept the momentum going with a single and Lexi Dollens reached on a one-out error. With two outs, Kamryn Garber slugged a two-run homer to left field.

Garber's homer was her first of the season and second of her career.

"A little unexpected, but still expected," Bart Miller said of Garber's homer. "At practice, we have 12 different girls who hit home runs if the pitch is there. She got the pitch she liked and drove it. I'm very happy for her to get that home run. That's not what she was trying to do at the time. She was just trying to get a base hit and happy accidents happen. That's what we call our home runs."

Western made it 8-0 in the second. With one out, Hunt walked on a full count and Norwell walked Erb on four pitches. Following a double steal, Linn drove in Hunt with a sacrifice fly and Sienna Stone drove in Erb with a single.

Over the first two innings, the Panthers had three runners reach on walks and two more reach on errors — and all five of those runners came around to score.

"This time of the year, a lot of games come down to walks and errors," Bart Miller said. "We're trying to limit those and at the same time, force those things on our opponent."

Norwell settled in to score five runs over the third, fourth and fifth innings — but Western scored four runs over the same stretch to keep the Knights at bay.

Kylie Miller earned the win. She pitched 4.1 innings and allowed six hits and five runs (four earned). She struck out five and walked none. Lucy George pitched the final 2.2 innings and held the Knights to one hit and no runs. She struck out five and walked none.

The Panthers finished with seven hits. Erb went 1 for 2 with two walks, three runs scored and three RBI, Linn went 1 for 2 with two RBI, Hunt scored three runs and Stone and Garber had two RBI apiece.

Norwell showed Erb plenty of respect after her home run. In the fourth inning, with Western leading 8-3 and with runners on first and second and no outs, the Knights intentionally walked the Panther sophomore to load the bases.

"She's a phenomenal player. She has been for quite awhile now. I follow her in travel and in high school and she's just a great hitter," Norwell coach Kevin Baird said. "You have to hit your spots with someone like that.

"Hat's off to their team," he added. "There were a couple spots where our pitcher threw it exactly where we wanted it and they still hit it hard. It's a good team. I thought before the season even started that Western could be in the [state] finals. Them and New Prairie were the two that I thought could be there."

Norwell was making its first semistate appearance since 2003.

"We definitely had some nervous kids making some nervous mistakes. That's to be expected a little bit, it's a big game and a big situation for us, not being there for 21 years. It's just one of those things where you live and you learn. We'll do better next time," Baird said.

Bryan Gaskins is the Tribune's sports editor. He may be reached at bryan.gaskins@kokomotribune.com or 765-454-8567.