By Ken Fillmore
BLOOMINGTON — Two future college teammates in Leo’s Mackenzie Rust and Churubusco’s Abigail Erwin and two longtime friends in Whitko’s Emalee Duggins and Ellie Snep played in their final high school softball games Saturday afternoon in the nine-inning Indiana Coaches of Girls Sports Association All-Star Game at Indiana University’s Andy Mohr Field.
The South took the major awards from the 2019 season with Wisconsin-bound pitcher Abby Herbst from Class 4A state champion Center Grove named Indiana’s Miss Softball and Gordon Wood from 2A state runner-up Tecumseh being named state coach of the year. But the North took the bragging rights in the weather-shortened all-star game 9-4.
Rain and thunderstorms swept through southern Indiana on Saturday morning and pushed the start of the game back about three hours. Two seven-inning games turned into one nine-inning game. Miss Softball and Coach of the Year were named after the fifth inning instead of between games.
All the local girls contributed to the North victory. Central Noble coach Taylor Amber returned to the all-star game as one of the North coaches after playing in the event for Churubusco in 2010.
Amber was the District 2 Class 2A Coach of the Year after leading the Cougars to a 21-4 season, a Northeast Corner Conference Tournament championship and a runner-up finish in the 2A Westview Sectional. Central Noble was stopped in the sectional by Bremen, who went on to win the 2A state title.
Churubusco coach Phil Nicolet nominated Amber for the district 2A coach of the year award.
“I played in it and nine years later I get to work with the best players in state. It’s very humbling,” Amber said.
“This is very exciting. I never thought I would be able to do something like this.”
Amber worked with Erwin when she was younger. Erwin was honored to be in the same dugout with Amber in her high school finale.
“(Amber) coached me when I got started,” Erwin said. “It means a lot to finish my high school career with her.”
Playing in the all-star game meant more to Erwin after being hit hard by injuries over the last two seasons. One of the biggest sluggers in the KPC North Zone coverage area did not play in the sectional in 2018 after being cleated late in the season. She missed the first six games of this past season with a shoulder injury before hitting .689 (31-45) with two home runs and 26 runs batted in.
Erwin drew walks in both of her plate appearances Saturday and played with her future University of Saint Francis teammate Rust.
Rust was the only North pitcher to pitch multiple innings, throwing the second and ninth innings. The right-hander overcame her throwing error to pitch a scoreless second inning with two strikeouts before her North teammates opened the scoring in the top of the third inning. Bremen’s Kaelyn Shively singled to center with two outs to score Crown Point’s Caitlyn Phillips.
The South found holes against Rust in the ninth to get four hits and score two runs. But Rust had a lot of room for error with a big lead.
“I wanted to mess with them a little bit,” Rust said. “But they have great girls over there and they are going to get their little hits.”
Rust lined up at home plate at IU with Herbst and other Miss Softball finalists Jenna Towle from Lake Central, Lexi Carver from Owen Valley and Hannah Hood from Castle. Rust is honored to be considered among the top softball players in the state.
“I worked super hard. My coaches pushed me toward it,” Rust said. “I am the first Leo player to be a Miss Softball finalist. It means a lot.”
Rust and Duggins each struck out twice. Snep struck out in her only plate appearance of the game in the fifth inning against Seymour’s Rachel Kaufman. Rust has not batted since early this past season. Pitching will be her primary role for the Cougars as it was this past season with Leo.
Duggins had the first two balls put in play by the South in the bottom of the third inning hit to her at third base to begin her time on the field. She made the assists to retire Speedway’s Rachael Gregory and New Palestine’s Emily O’Connor. Duggins played shortstop in the fourth and seventh innings.
Snep played an inning in left field and pitched a scoreless seventh inning. She struck out Zionsville’s Lucy Garrett and allowed a two-out hit to O’Connor.
Duggins will continue her softball career at NCAA Division I IUPUI. Before that, she shared special final softball memories with her best friend Snep over the past two days.
“It was very exciting to experience this with my best friend and meet all these different players and play with the best in the state,” Snep said. “We proved what hard work can do.”
Duggins added, “We’ve been through a lot to get to this ending point. To be with this kind of talent who loves the game as much as we do makes this really enjoyable.”
The North broke the game open with a three-run fourth inning to take a 4-0 lead, and ran away from the South with three runs in the seventh and two in the eighth.
Kankakee Valley’s Madeline Swart had a two-run single in the seventh and was named the game’s most valuable player. South Bend Adams’ Alexandria Bare-Davis had a two-run single in the fourth.