ELKHART – History did not repeat itself for the Warsaw softball program in postseason play Wednesday night.
The Tigers saw their 2012 campaign come to an end with a 6-1 loss to No. 4 Northridge in semifinal action of the Class 4-A Elkhart Memorial Sectional.
Warsaw was hoping to duplicate its sectional success from 2011 when the Tigers upended the Raiders 6-4 in a sectional semifinal game after a pair of regular-season losses.
The same scenario did not play out Wednesday as the Raiders proved worthy of their lofty ranking to top the Tigers for the third time this season.
Warsaw, which lost 12-2 and 13-1 to Northridge in NLC play this spring, finishes at 19-10. Northridge (27-1) advances to play Elkhart Central (15-11) Friday at 7 p.m. in the sectional title game. The Blue Blazers edged Goshen 5-4 in the second semifinal game Wednesday night.The first inning proved to be key to the Tigers’ bid for the upset Wednesday. Warsaw loaded the bases on a bunt single by Kiera Stahly, a single by Kelsey Dotson and a hit batter with one out in the top of the frame only to see Northridge turn a 1-2-3 double play to end the threat.
The Raiders wasted no time in taking control in the home half of the first. The first two batters reached on a walk and a misplayed bunt before a 5-3 double play by the Tigers stymied the threat, but just for the moment. Northridge responded as good teams do as cleanup hitter Caity Pixley smacked a two-out RBI single for a 1-0 lead. After a single by sophomore Haley Nixon, Brittany Wingard delivered a clutch two-run single for a quick 3-0 cushion.
“We had our chances and who knows if we score a couple runs early,” said Warsaw coach Jim Speicher. “They got those runs and settled in. You tip your hat to them. Nixon is the best underclassmen pitcher in the area and she proved it tonight. Give her a lot of credit and their coaches. She made the pitches she needed to or didn’t need to when she had to. Northridge is just a very solid team.”
Nixon, as in Raider sophomore ace Haley Nixon, did settle in. She kept the Tigers off the scoreboard until the final inning to run her season mark in the circle to 26-1. Nixon had no strikeouts and one walk in the complete game win.Northridge, whose lone loss was a 1-0 setback to Class 3-A No. 1 Mishawaka Marian, made it 4-0 in the second on an RBI single by Madison Schrock. The Raiders added a pair in the fifth on an RBI single by Wingard, one of just three seniors for coach Bo O’Dell’s youthful team, and a bases loaded walk to Kelcie Caples.
Warsaw, which did have nine hits off Nixon, tried to rally in their final at-bat. Kara Dishman doubled and scored on an RBI single from Emily Stouder. After a groundout and a walk, Nixon got slugger Kelsey Dotson to hit into a game-ending 5-4-3 double play.
“I was happy with our approach and the girls did everything we asked of them tonight,” Speicher said. “We just didn’t score enough when we had to. I’m proud of how the girls battled in the seventh. Another hit or two and it gets interesting.”
The game marked the end of prep careers for Warsaw seniors Dotson, Kendra Marshall, Cari O’Hara and Sam Bennett. Catcher Dotson, who will play at Indiana University, hit 12 homers this spring to give her 34 for her career (third in state history). Shortstop Marshall, who will play at Valparaiso University, hit 10 roundtrippers. O’Hara, a JV pitcher in 2011, won a school record 15 games in an amazing senior season.Speicher got emotional when asked to talk about four-year stars Dotson and Marshall and what they brought to the table.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time and they are the best I’ve seen in terms of their love of the game,” said Speicher. “We’re going to miss their physical presence and their leadership. Kelsey always wants to make the big play. I’ll miss her behind the plate with what she did more than her home runs. Kendra is just a very smart player. She’s been in Kelsey’s shadow, but she’s done a great job. They are wonderful friends and great teammates.”
O’Hara pitched the first two innings and the final one Wednesday to finish a 15-7 season. Freshman Taylor Stiver pitched three innings for the Tigers.
“I thought Taylor did a nice job,” said Speicher. “It’s a good learning experience for a freshman to throw in two sectional games (Stiver pitched four innings versus Memorial Monday).”Dotson struggled to keep her emotions in check too when asked about playing her final high school game for Warsaw and with close friend Marshall.
“Kendra and I are very close,” said Dotson, tears streaming down her face. “You get close to your teammates. They are a lot like family to me.”
Dotson, sophomore Dishman and junior leadoff hitter Kiera Stahly led Warsaw with two hits each. Marshall had a single and was hit by a pitch.
Wingard led the Raiders with two hits and three RBI. Senior Pixley had two hits and Nixon scored a pair of runs.