SOFTBALL: Western beats Tri-West 1-0 for Class 3A state title

WEST LAFAYETTE — Western center fielder Kamryn Garber was ready to make the play.

Western was up 1-0 and one out away from a state title when Tri-West's Ava Hensley stepped to the plate with the potential tying run on first base. Hensley lofted a fly ball to center field and the runner was on the move.

"I was back pretty deep because it was the last inning and there was a big bat up to bat," Garber said. "I read the ball quite wrong, I will admit that, I thought it was coming back more than it was. I was like, 'Oh shoot, I have to bust my butt.' That's why I laid out for it.

"My heart was thumping through my chest."

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Western center fielder Kamryn Garber makes a diving catch for the final out of the Panthers' 1-0 victory over Tri-West in the Class 3A game of the 39th annual IHSAA State Finals on Saturday, June 8, 2024, at Purdue's Bittinger Stadium.

Garber made a terrific diving catch to seal the No. 2-ranked Panthers' 1-0 victory over the co-No. 3 Bruins in the Class 3A game of the 39th annual IHSAA Softball State Finals on Saturday night at a packed Bittinger Stadium on Purdue's campus.

"I can't describe the feeling," Western coach Bart Miller said. "I've been a Western Panther my whole life. I love it whenever we can win a state title and to be a part of it is just amazing."

Western (29-2) celebrated its first state title, three decades after runner-up finishes in 1993 and '94.

"It's a surreal feeling considering my mom went to state her senior year, but she fell short," Western senior Chloe Linn said. "It's amazing to know I'm on the team that won state."

Linn provided the game's lone run when she connected off Tri-West ace Audrey Lowry for a home run to lead off the bottom of the second inning. Entering the game, the Oklahoma-bound Lowry had allowed just one earned run in her last 68 innings pitched.

"We knew it was going to be a tight game. We knew we'd need one or two runs and Chloe's home run [did it]," Miller said. "Brynley Erb the inning before just missed a riseball that went 215 [feet] to dead center and unfortunately the fence is 220. The Lowry girl is a heck of a pitcher, there's a reason she's going to Oklahoma."

Linn and Lowry battled back and forth during the at-bat before Linn crushed a full-count pitch to left field for her 13th homer of the season and 31st of her career.

"I got a riseball," Linn said. "It wasn't super high. I don't know if she missed, but I got around on it and hit the barrel."

How did it feel off the bat?

"It felt amazing," she said. "I knew it was gone right away."

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Western's Chloe Linn smiles as she rounds the bases after hitting a home run in the bottom of the second inning of the Class 3A game in the 39th annual IHSAA State Finals on Saturday, June 8, 2024, at Purdue's Bittinger Stadium. Linn's homer stood up for a 1-0 Western victory over Tri-West.

From there, Western pitcher Lucy George protected the 1-0 lead with a brilliant performance. The Panther freshman held the Bruins to two hits, struck out 16 and walked one. She threw 109 pitches with 78 going for strikes.

George out-dueled the Bruins' Lowry. She held Western to three hits, struck out eight and walked two over six innings.

"It’s great. As a freshman, it’s been a honor to pitch these games," George said. "I knew I had a job to do and I was going to do that."

The Panthers backed George with an error-free defense. In addition to Garber's web gem to end the game, right fielder Rylnn Gibbs had a nice play when the Bruins' Ily Hester led off the fourth with a flare. Gibbs came up short when she dove for the catch, but she kept the ball in front of her and limited Hester to a single. The Bruins sacrificed Hester to second and George followed with a pair of strikeouts to end the threat.

PHOTOS: Western softball wins state

That was the only time the Bruins advanced a runner beyond first base. Their only other hit came with two outs in the seventh when Danica James had a clean single up the middle — but Garber followed with the game-ending catch and the Panthers had the title.

Other than Linn's homer, the Panthers had only two runners advance beyond first. In the second, Sienna Stone followed Linn's homer with a single, took second base on a one-out wild pitch and stole third with two outs before being stranded. In the sixth, Erb had a two-out single and moved to second on a wild pitch. The Bruins then intentionally walked Linn before recording the third out.

"It was a great softball game," Tri-West coach Mike Miller said. "It's two [1-0 games] in a row for us with Silver Creek in the semistate and this one. We won in the semistate with one hit and they won it one hit [Saturday]. I thought both pitchers threw well. They both were in control."

Tri-West (28-7) finished as state runner-up for the third straight year.