Sunday, May 13, 2001

NewCath (35-0) wins state softball title




By Ray Schaefer
Enquirer contributor

        It takes one word to describe Newport Central Catholic's slow-pitch softball season — perfect.

        NewCath won its third straight state title Saturday and finished its 35-0 year in exciting fashion at Kenton Lakes Softball Complex. Junior Heather Gardner's two-run single in the bottom of the seventh inning capped a five-run rally in an 8-7 win over Campbell County.

        Saturday's finale left NewCath coach Jenny Mertle red-eyed and crying for joy. She finished her 15-year career in the way she'd dreamed.

        “Thirty-five-and-oh — that's perfection,” Mertle said. “What a way to go out.”

        Gardner had just two hits in her final eight at-bats. She was calm after the game.

        “I don't even know where my ball went,” Gardner said. “I haven't been hitting good. I popped out a lot.”

        Gardner's hit went to left-center field, scoring sophomore third baseman Ashley Heister and freshman Sarah Pangallo, a courtesy runner for sophomore Ann Blank.

        Campbell County (17-11) made the title game in its first year in slow-pitch since 1996. And senior second baseman Erin Smith said that was reason enough to smile after the game.

        “Why would we be disappointed?” Smith said. “We played hard and competitive, like a team. We were that close.”

        Campbell County played a lot better against NewCath the second time Saturday. In the winners bracket final, the Camels fell behind 7-1 on the way to a 12-6 loss.

        But as Mertle watched Campbell County eliminate Lloyd 12-7 in the losers bracket final, she fretted about the Camels' offense. Campbell County forced the 10-run mercy rule four times in the tournament.

        Once the championship game started, Campbell County scored five runs in the final three innings and was up 7-3 with three NewCath outs to get.

        With NewCath approaching the last at-bat, Mertle talked to her team.

        “I said this is what home team's about,” she said. “It's never over.”

        NewCath was down to its last out when Heister's single to right scored junior Olivia Lantry and senior left fielder Beth Schuck, and senior second baseman Megan O'Hara made it 7-6 by scoring on a fielder's choice.

        “It was fate,” Campbell County coach Troy Styer said. “It was Coach Mertle's (year). We lost 11 times this year; we lost eight to Newport Catholic.”

        Lloyd's third-place finish was the school's best since finishing second to NewCath in 1997, and the Juggernauts' 37-5 record is the best in school history.

        “They had a lot of heart, all of them,” coach Marty Lenhof said.

        Newport finished fourth. It was one place lower than last year, but coach Tom Haas wasn't upset.

        “When you're 28-10, that's pretty good,” Haas said. “That's probably the best season we've had.”

        CHAMPIONSHIP

        Campbell County ....... 200  021  2—7  11  5

        Newport CC ....... 101  100  5—8   9  4

        WP-Meyers. LP-Gross. Hitting leaders: CC-Kappes 3-4, 2B; Ling 2-4, 2 RBI; Stull 2-4, HR, RBI; NCC-Ziegler 3-3, 2B, RBI; Schuck 2-2, HR, RBI. Records: CC 17-11, NCC 35-0.



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