Junior Natalie Feather emerged as Tecumseh’s No. 1 pitcher right about the time the defending Class 1A champions took off.
It was not really a coincidence.
Tecumseh (25-9) reinforced its spot among the softball elite in the state of Indiana by rolling to a 6-0 win over Caston in the title game at Bittinger Stadium.
Feather tossed a four-hit shutout and added a gargantuan, two-run home run to cap the scoring in the sixth inning giving coach Gordon Wood’s program its fifth state championship in its 10th state-title-game appearance. The number of championships is the third-most in state history, while the appearances are the second-most.
“One thing I will say,” Wood said during the post-game celebration, “this NEVER gets old … and you can use never in all-capitals. Our strength of schedule really helped us prepare us for the post-season.”
After beating South Central (Union Mills) a year ago, the Braves started the 2023 season 8-8. Certainly, a schedule that featured several 4A schools, a couple of out-of-state clubs and the likes of 2A champ North Posey and defending 4A champ Roncalli contributed to that mark.
Wood, however, came into the season needing to find a top pitcher.
“We had nine starters back and only lost our No. 1 pitcher,” he pointed out. “We struggled with pitching throughout the year and we didn’t know who our No. 1 was until the last week of the season.”
Up stepped Feather. She came in to the final with an 11-2 record and a 3.07 ERA in 100 innings pitched. Leading up to the title game, she had allowed just four runs in Tecumseh’s five tournament games, including three shutouts.
“I just started hitting my spots a lot better,” Feather said after her performance in the title game, where she finished with four strikeouts, only one walk and not allowing a runner past second.
The only inning in which Feather faced real trouble came in the fifth inning. While protecting a 1-0 lead, Caston (22-5) put the first two runners on. Feather, however, bore down and got the final three outs on two strikeouts and a fielder’s choice.
“Natalie started pitching instead of throwing,” Wood said of Feather’s emergence. “She worked on her changeup and started hitting corners. You saw that today.”
Gettting out of that jam clearly swung the momentum to the Braves.
Senior Katelyn Marx tripled in the third inning and scored on a sacrifice fly by Taylor Ash for the 1-0 lead. In the fifth, Marx doubled in pinch runner Keeley Wingerter (who stepped in for Feather who had singled with one out). Ash then reached on an error and both Marx and Ash scored on a double by Jenna Donohoo for a 4-0 lead.
In the sixth, Feather put the game out of reach by clubbing her homer with Payge Johnson scoring ahead of her.
“I don’t think I’ve ever hit a ball that hard,” Feather said of the blast to left-center. “I just knew we needed more runs and that’s what I had to do.”
Caston, making its first-ever state finals appearance in any sport, brought along a large crowd, but went home empty-handed.
“Unfortunately, we just didn’t string any hits together,” Comets coach Jon Burks said. “We hung in there, but they got the hits they needed and we didn’t.”
Marx finished with three hits for the winners.
Caston’s Kinzie Mollenkopf earns Mental Attitude Award
Photos - Caston Athletics Twitter
At the conclusion of the game, Kinzie Mollenkopf of Caston High School was announced as the recipient of the Mental Attitude Award for Class 1A Softball.
The award is annually presented to a senior participant in the state finals who best demonstrates mental attitude, scholarship, leadership and athletic ability and is nominated by her principal and coach.
Kinzie is a member of the Athletic Leadership Team and a part of the National Honor Society. She is also on the Parliamentary Procedure Team and the President and reporter for Future Farmers of America. Athletically, she is the 2023 Hoosier North Conference MVP and a North All-Star Selection for District 1. Besides softball, she also participated all four years with the Comets’ volleyball and basketball teams.
Kinzie is the daughter of Stephanie and Blake Mollenkopf of North Logansport, IN and will attend Huntington University to study Agricultural Business.
Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance presented a $1,000 scholarship to Caston High School in the name of Kinzie Mollenkopf. She becomes the first Caston student-athlete to receive an IHSAA mental attitude award in any sport.