Panthers wrest conference title away from Bull Dogs

In Columbus North’s losses this season, they’ve had a tough time at the plate.

The case was proven again during Tuesday night’s Conference Indiana softball showdown with Bloomington South.

Bull Dog starting pitcher Maddi Rutan struck out 17, but it wasn’t enough as the Panthers captured the title with a 5-1 victory, ending North’s chance of a conference three-peat.

The Bull Dogs have been dominant in Conference Indiana. This was the first time in four years that they have lost a conference game.

“You can’t win if you don’t hit the ball and score runs. That’s what it comes down to. We’ve got to be better at hitting,” North coach Ron McDonald said. “It’s one of our goals we didn’t make, but I think our next thing is to try to win every game from here until the end of the season and try to win the sectional.”

Rutan and Bloomington South starting pitcher Marin Jacobs made quick work of opposing batters in the first two innings. In the bottom of the third for the Bull Dogs (15-3, 4-1), Lexi Heafner was hit hard by the pitch, but stayed in the game to run the bases. Heafner eventually made her way to third base, but was unable to score as the side was retired. Heafner was then taken out of the game following the inning.

The momentum then swung in the Panthers favor in the top of the fourth inning as a two-out error proved to be costly. Lexie McGlothlin then blasted a two-run home run over left field to give Bloomington South (15-3, 5-0) a 2-0 lead.

North tried to rally in the bottom of the fifth with two out when Emalee Heafner reached first on a wild pitch strikeout, and a Taylor Hadley single put runners on first and second. But the Panthers were able to get the strikeout the end the inning.

Bloomington South put the game away in the sixth inning when Kayli Reed walked, and a two-run home run from Jessica Young made it 4-0. A solo home run by McGlothlin, her second of the game, stamped the victory.

In the bottom of the seventh, Bailey King hit a single, and eventually made it to third on a groundout. King would then score off of Panthers error to prevent the shutout.

“This was for the conference title. It hurts, it really hurts, especially for our seniors,” McDonald said.

The three home runs were the only hits Bloomington South had in the game. Hadley, King and Kirsten Danford accounted for the three North hits.

Rutan threw all seven inning,s allowing five runs on three hits.

The Bull Dogs could see Bloomington South again in the Bloomington North Sectional final later this month.

“We’ve got to hit the ball. We can’t depend on 17 strikeouts. There’s no ifs or ands about it. The three times we’ve lost, we haven’t hit, and it shows,” McDonald said. “We can’t put it all on Maddi out there either. Each one of us has got to contribute and do the right thing.”