Newell-Fonda head softball coach Dick Jungers knew Thursday's Class 1A semifinal contest with New London would be a nail-biter.
Behind a Morgan Christner RBI single in the eighth, it was the No. 10 Tigers moving on to Friday morning's state championship game with a 1-0 triumph over the fourth-ranked Mustangs.
New London (32-9 overall) will face top-ranked Akron-Westfield (36-2) - also a 1-0 winner over No. 5 Don Bosco in the other semifinal at Rogers Park yesterday - for the 1A?crown.
Hits - and more importantly, runs - were at a premium throughout the contest, but Newell-Fonda (36-7) did give itself several chances to knock a run across.
"We knew it would be a game where one team would scratch a win out," said Jungers, who also coached the Mustang girls basketball team to a runner-up showing this past winter. "We had some chances; we just couldn't get that next hit when we needed it."
In the seventh, Mackenzie Mandernach lined a hit to left, but was gunned down trying to stretch it into a double. The very next batter, Brianna Wells, hit a shot to right that darted off the glove of the defender.
NEW LONDON 1, NEWELL-FONDA 0 (8 inn.)
Newell-Fonda 000 000 00 - 0 4 2
New London 000 000 01 - 1 5 1
Renee Maneman (L, 24-4, 7 1/3 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 9 K) and Taylor Lago; Morgan Christner (W, 31-8, 8 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 6 K) and Emily Parks. 2B - NF: Taylor Lago. RBI - NL: Christner. SB - NF: Maneman (2); NL: Sami Koontz; Dani Holt. MH - NL: Christner (2). LOB - NF: 6, NL: 7.
With Wells on second, though, Taiyler Schrank lined out on a great defensive play by Ashley Davis at first base.
"We knew we could do this," said Christner, just a freshman, who improved to 31-8 on the year with a four-hit, six-strikeout performance. "This feeling is just incredible. I have no idea what (the state finals) are going to feel like, but this feels great right now."
Christner was able to pitch her way out of another jam in the eighth. Renee Maneman laid down a perfect bunt and proceeded to swipe second base. However, Jordan Wilken and Jade Hess were unable to advance her.
"I can't credit New London enough for playing a great game," Jungers said. "Our girls did as well, and that was just a great game overall."
New London senior Caitlin Chiri - the only senior on the roster - singled to start the eighth. The University of Dubuque volleyball recruit advanced to second on a passed ball and easily came home after Christner blasted a shot to right-center and the grass, setting off a wild celebration for the Tigers.
"I went after a pitch outside because I had to protect with two strikes," said Christner, who was the only player with two hits in the game. "There was a lot of pressure (in the latter innings), but we remained calm and poised."
Maneman, who stole three bases all total in the game, pitched a five-hitter, striking out nine. For the year, with a third-place game yet to be played today vs. Don Bosco at 9:30 a.m. on Diamond 2, the junior has swiped 78 bases.
That total places her in a tie for sixth on the all-time national softball lists with Lynn Hockett of Michigan, who recorded 78 steals in 1991. Jennifer Jorgensen, a former Southeast Webster-Grand star who will be inducted into the hall of fame, is fifth on that list with 85.