By GREG MENGELT
On Thursday, Providence’s softball team delivered a message to the Eastern Sectional field: Last year was no fluke.
The 21-9 Pioneers won their second straight Class 2A sectional title for the first time in school history with a 19-2 win over the host Musketeers. The title is the third in the program’s history.
Providence will host Switzerland County in the one-game regional at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday. The Pioneers only regional crown came in 2005.
“I’m extremely proud of these girls,” Providence coach Sean Payne said. “We talked all year about doing something that no girl who’s ever worn a Providence uniform has been able to do — that’s go back-to-back. Getting that done is huge for this program.”
“I’m extremely happy right now,” Providence senior Meredith Endris said. “It’s great to be part of something that’s never happened before.”
Providence took advantage of two Musketeer errors to score three runs in the bottom of the first inning. After Courtney Hoke crossed the plate for Eastern (2-19) to cut the Pioneers’ lead to 3-1, the Pioneers put the game away with six straight two-out hits in the second.
With two outs, Morgan Boone hit an infield single. Her hit was followed by a slap single by Jordyn Stengel, an RBI single by Endris, an RBI double that hit the centerfield fence by Lillian Hughes , a Jacquie Hornung RBI double that hit the centerfield fence on one hop and a two-run home run by freshman Marlee Karem that gave the Pioneers a 9-1 lead.
“When we had the big inning — when Marlee hit the home run — I thought, ‘We’ve got this in the bag,’” Endris admitted.
Karem went 3 for 4 with five RBIs and scored three times.
“Coming in as a freshman and doing that good, it’s unexpected usually,” Boone said. “But all of our freshman came up ready to play.”
After going scoreless in the third, Providence invoked the 10-run rule with a 10-run fourth. Again, the Pioneers took advantage of Eastern miscues — four in the frame — and smacked the ball around the park.
Hughes, Hornung and Karem each knocked in two runs and scored twice inning the fourth, while Karly Baumann hit an RBI triple and Charly Wolford grounded out to bring home Baumann.
The Pioneers finished with 19 runs on 16 hits, including six extra base hits. Hornung hit a pair of doubles.
“It was a display offensively,” Payne said. “It was awesome to see. After the Henryville game [a 10-9 win], we shouldn’t have allowed them to get back in it, we talked to them and they really responded to our beliefs that once you get somebody down, you really have to keep going at them, especially in tournament play.”
The Musketeers produced a run in the fifth when Laken Heavren opened the frame with a double and later scored on a Makenzie Taylor ground ball.
Endris pitched only two innings but picked up the win. She also went 2 for 3 and scored three times.
“When I get on, I know Lillian’s going to hit me in — or Jackie or Marlee,” Endris said. “I know all I have to do is get on base for them to hit me in.”
Hughes went 3 for 4, crossed the plate four times and had an RBI. Hornung and Stengel also scored three times apiece for the Pioneers.
“Our lineup is awesome,” Endris said. “One through nine can hit, every single one of them.”
Switzerland County ended Providence’s season a year ago with a 6-4 victory in the regional. Despite a 10-0 win over the Pacers on April 18, the Pioneers said they’ve yet to avenge that defeat.
“The regular season win was great. Yeah, we got ’em, but it doesn’t mean anything unless it’s post-season,” Payne said. “They got that on us. That’s going to be the message that we deliver for these girls. We have more revenge that we have to take care of.”
“I’m excited,” Endris said. “It’s a rematch from last year and we have unfinished business to do.”
After last year’s disappointing post-sectional performance, the Pioneers believe the 2013 run could be a special one.
“I want to win state,” Boone said. “But we have to do a lot of hard work to get there.”
“I want to go to state, too,” Endris said. “I think we can do it. We just have to believe in ourselves and have confidence.”
Payne also believes his team is capable of great things. He was just a little more cautious following Thursday’s triumph.
“We know we have the ability to,” Payne said. “But we know that Switzerland County can beat us. They did it last year. If we get past Tuesday, we’ll be ready to go for [the Forest Park Semistate on] Saturday, and hopefully we can make a run for state.”