Softball: Home runs power Newman past Putnam County in regional semifinal

Comets hit three dingers to advance to regional championship game

Newman’s Sam Ackman puts the tag down on Putnam County’s Tori Balma Thursday, May 18, 2023.

STERLING – An early lead was all the Newman Comets needed in their Class 1A regional softball semifinal on their home diamond Thursday afternoon.

Madison Duhon, Jess Johns and Sophia Ely all homered, and the Comets used a four-run second inning to propel themselves to a 7-2 victory over Putnam County. They will face Morrison for the regional championship on Saturday at 10 a.m.

“Everything changes in the postseason,” Duhon said. “The energy, everyone’s mindset; we’re all more focused, because if you lose, you’re done.”

The bottom half of the lineup sparked the initial rally for Newman (16-8). Lucy Oetting was hit by a pitch to lead off the second inning, then Ely singled with one out. Molly Olson’s sacrifice drove in Oetting, then Brenleigh Cook plated Ely with a two-out RBI single.

That turned over the order, and Madison Duhon – who fouled out to the catcher in her first at-bat – smashed a two-run home run to center field for a 4-0 lead.

“It’s big for us to have an inning like that early,” Duhon said. “I think it really helps everyone settle down and relax more when we can play with the lead.”

Teammates celebrate Newman’s Madison Duhon’s two-run homer against Putnam County Thursday, May 18, 2023.

Putnam County cut the deficit in half in the next half-inning, as Salina Breckenridge drove in Sarah Johnson with a one-out RBI single, then came around to score on an error later in the inning to make it 4-2.

That score held for the next two innings, as Putnam County pitcher Kara Staley and Newman hurler Ady Waldschmidt traded zeroes.

The Comets got a couple of insurance runs in the fifth. Waldschmidt doubled with two outs, then Johns blasted a home run that cleared the fence near where Duhon’s went over a few innings earlier. That made it 6-2, and helped the Comets settle back in.

“That definitely took a lot of pressure off of pitching, took a lot of pressure off of us as a whole. It made the cushion bigger,” Johns said.

Ely’s solo blast came with two outs in the sixth, her second hit and second run of the game. It was a welcome sight for the junior, who said she’s struggled recently at the plate.

“Recently I’ve kind of been in a little bit of a slump, and then I couldn’t see the ball in my second at-bat, so the home run kind of helped me gain confidence and reassure myself that I could see the ball well,” she said.

Newman’s Brenleigh Cook drives in a run against Putnam County Thursday, May 18, 2023.

It was that kind of day for the Comets, who got contributions up and down the lineup. Like Ely, Waldschmidt had a pair of hits, and six different players either had hits, scored runs or recorded RBIs.

“I think it really helps make our team come together and not only win this for ourselves, but win it for each other,” Ely said.

Waldschmidt gave up one earned run and three hits in a complete game, striking out six and walking three. She also got some help from her defense, as Amiya Rodriguez set the tone in the first inning with a leaping catch to rob Gabby Doyle of a potential extra-base hit in left field.

Duhon also made a couple of nice catches in center field, Sam Ackman had a pair of unassisted putouts at first base, and the Comets committed just one error.

“That’s very nice, especially if you’re pitching, to know you can count on your defense,” Johns said. “I’m sure it was a relief for Ady when A-Rod comes over and makes that catch early and gets everybody going.”

Johnson and Doyle had the other hits for Putnam County. Staley also went the distance in the circle, allowing seven hits, striking out three and hitting a batter.

Newman’s Amiya Rodriguez makes a deep left field catch against Putnam County Thursday, May 18, 2023.
Have a Question about this article?
Ty Reynolds

Ty Reynolds

Ty is the Sports Editor at Sauk Valley Media, and has covered sports in the Sauk Valley for more than two decades.