Jeep bats blossom, and buoyant vibe follows

Dave Weatherwax/The Herald
Northeast Dubois’ Morgan Seng cheered on her teammates after she belted an RBI double to chase home her team’s first run in Monday’s Class 1A sectional semifinals at Dubois. The Jeeps bounced Wood Memorial 7-2 to book a spot in Wednesday’s 7 p.m. championship, where they’ll face No. 4 Tecumseh. For a gallery of photos, click here.

By BRENDAN PERKINS
Herald Sports Editor

DUBOIS — So what if her softball game didn’t end until 10:37 Monday night and Katie Kluesner had four final exams today that hadn’t studied for? Same for Morgan Seng, who hadn’t cracked the books for three of her finals?

Homework could wait. For a few minutes, anyway.

The Northeast Dubois softball team hadn’t bottled many moments like this all spring, so taking a few moments to bask in a 7-2 dismissal of Wood Memorial in the Class 1A sectional semifinals seemed appropriate.

Kluesner

There were sugary treats and star-shaped balloons and some personal entertainment by freshman Makayla Jones, who somersaulted about a half-dozen times straight from the outfield grass to near the dugout after the game. Jeep coach Larry Wineinger stared at that spectacle and just shook his head and laughed. But Wineinger also realized that his players were receptive to one of his favorite lines, which was repeated continually through the season even when losses mounted.

“I always try to keep telling them, ”˜Play and have fun. Any day you can play softball is a good day,’” he said.

“It feels good to win, it really does,” added Kluesner, who drove in two runs and reached base three times. “We haven’t won much this season, but at least we came back and we worked together really well, I thought tonight, and we did good.”

The breadth of the sunny vibes was appropriate, as the contributions were expansive.

Northeast Dubois sophomore pitcher Kendra Jacob whiffed eight batters, a season-high. For the first time all year, every Jeep in the batting order reached base at least once.

Jacob finished with two hits and smoked an RBI triple. Leadoff hitter Taryn Friedman scored twice, and the production trickled down to the lower sector of the order, too, as Alexis Zehr and Valerye Pfeifer each chased home runs. The propulsion arrived from Morgan Seng, a lefty who clocked a double the opposite way to usher in the first Jeep run of the game after Northeast Dubois (6-14) meekly went down 1-2-3 in the first inning.

“It felt awesome, because I was kind of in a slump,” said Seng, who added an RBI single. “We were having a really hard time struggling hitting, and thank the Lord it just (came to us). It was just awesome. Everybody got out of (the slump).”

The Jeeps’ total of five hits was modest. But they continually connected on pitches, striking out just three times, and also accepted six walks.

Before piling up seven runs Monday, Northeast Dubois had assembled just seven total runs over its prior six games. Even with the stakes elevated in the sectional opener, Wineinger knew why there was no spike in his team’s anxiety. See earlier explanation: Play and have fun.

“They were really loose tonight; probably the loosest they’ve been all year,” Wineinger said. “When they came out tonight they were cutting up and having fun. When we were up there hitting (batting practice before the game), they were loose. It kind of showed. They didn’t pressure themselves into hitting the ball.”

That applied for Seng, who reached base four times and has fulfilled the team’s need for a trusty first baseman. The sophomore hadn’t played softball for two years before rejoining the squad this spring. The Jeeps have also embraced unexpected help from another sophomore, Katelyn Helming, who was a student manager for the squad last season before trying out this spring and making the team. Inserted as a courtesy runner Monday, Helming scored a pair of runs.

For Seng, no external sources lured her back into softball. The impulse was all her own.

“I missed it. I love softball,” Seng said with a smile and a slight expression of guilt about taking the year hiatus. “I just really wanted to play this year, and I’m glad I did.”

Seng was less pumped about the late-night study session that awaited for her finals in French, world history and English. Chemistry and Spanish were part of the cram session Kluesner was bracing for as Monday’s games stretched deep into the night; the Jeeps hit the field after Tecumseh throttled Cannelton 23-0 in a five-inning mismatch in the first semifinal.

The Jeeps and fourth-ranked Braves will tussle in Wednesday’s championship at 7 p.m., where Northeast Dubois realizes its task: knocking off the 10-time defending sectional winners and 2011 state champs who feature fireballer Tiffany Summers, who Wineinger calls one of the top two pitchers the Jeeps see all year. But if the Jeeps keep making contact and fun follows, Wineinger knows his team will be exactly where it needs to be.

“We had runners on a couple times, and we probably gave them one or two runs (defensively),” Wineinger said of the Jeeps’ 4-0 loss to the Braves a month ago. “You know, you put a little pressure on them, and you never know what’s going to happen.”

Contact Brendan Perkins at bperkins@dcherald.com.




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