SOFTBALL: Western beats New Prairie, advances to State Finals

MONTICELLO — With two swings of the bat, Brynley Erb put No. 2-ranked Western in control against co-No. 3 New Prairie in the IHSAA Class 3A North Softball Semistate championship on Monday night at Twin Lakes.

In the top of the first inning, with runners on second and third and no outs, Erb rocked the first pitch she saw from New Prairie ace Ava Geyer for a three-run home run to left field.

In the third inning, Erb struck again as the two-time all-state player jumped on a 3-0 pitch from Geyer for a two-run homer to left field. That put the Panthers up 5-1 on their way to a 6-1 win, their first semistate title since 1994, and a spot in the Class 3A State Final on Saturday.

PHOTOS: Western wins softball semistate

"I felt really confident in myself," Erb said of her approach. "I was looking for one pitch only and that was either a curveball or her riseball. In my first at-bat, I luckily just caught that before it rose on me. And then my 3-0 count, I think she missed her spot and I just really attacked it and took advantage."

Geyer pitched New Prairie to the Class 3A state title last year.

"[Erb] blasted one her first time up. I could have walked her there, but I wanted to see if she could hit Ava, who is an all-state pitcher. She proved she could do that. You hate to give in right away. I'll take the blame for that one," New Prairie coach Derek Hicks said. "Then we had a 3-0 on her and I knew she probably had the green light to hit. I was yelling out, 'Nothing to hit' but we gave her something to hit.

"She's a really good, really talented player, deserves everything she gets. She's going to be a star."

Western (28-2) advances to play co-No. 3 Tri-West (28-6) in the State Finals at Purdue University's Bittinger Stadium. The Class 3A game is set for 7 p.m. on Saturday. Tri-West beat No. 5 Silver Creek 1-0 in the South Semistate.

Western freshman pitcher Lucy George complemented Erb's big game with one of her own.

George pitched a complete game and held the Cougars to four hits. She struck out 10 and walked none.

"I was definitely nervous, but I was ready from this morning," George said. "The backdoor screwball and my riseball were working."

George retired the final 15 batters she faced.

"She did a really good job," Hicks said. "She kept us off balance — I saw us reaching a lot. She kept it way outside and we kept chasing. We never adjusted to it. We can hit, but it didn't come [Monday] and the ones we did hit were right to people."

New Prairie's Geyer allowed seven hits, struck out 14 and walked two.

All of Western's hits came from its Nos. 1-4 hitters. Kylie Miller went 2 for 3 with three runs scored, Chloe Hunt went 2 for 4 with an RBI double, Erb finished 2 for 3 with five runs batted in and Chloe Linn was 1 for 4 with a double.

"They were huge," Western coach Bart Miller said. "Ava Geyer is a fantastic pitcher and a lot of those four girls see that type of pitching a lot over the summer so they weren't intimidated at all."

Western showed that in the first inning. Kylie Miller reached on a bloop single to right and Hunt singled to deep left to send Miller to third. Hunt took second when the Cougars threw to third. The next pitch saw Erb crush her 14th homer of the season.

After New Prairie (22-7) scratched out a run in the second inning on three singles, Western quickly answered in the third. Kylie Miller led off and reached on a dropped third strike. After Hunt popped out, Erb hammered her 15th homer of the season and 36th of her career.

In two semistate games, Erb launched three homers and drove in eight runs. The Panther sophomore ranks No. 2 in the state in RBI with 66.

"Everything right now is just for our seniors and our coaching staff," she said.

Western tacked on its final run in the seventh. Kylie Miller had a one-out single and Hunt brought her home with a double to left. The Panthers had a scare two batters later when Erb was slow to get up following an out at second. Caught in a pickle, she dove back head first into the base and her head hit a New Prairie player's knee.

Erb said after the game that she was OK.

The Panthers are one win away from winning their first state title.

"I'm just so proud of these girls and how they've worked all [school] year. This started back in the fall," Bart Miller said. "They've worked hard, they've listened, they're coachable and they're a great group to be around. They're a lot of fun to be around and I think that has made a big difference this year."