Wawasee found the early road rougher than the previous two engagements with NorthWood during the regular season. Wawasee had beaten the Lady Panthers by matching 8-1 scores in NLC play, but were scoreless and had NorthWood threatening in the fourth inning. After an error had Allie Mattingly reach second, then advancing to third on a sacrifice bunt, Wawasee ace Gabi Routson showed her mettle. A strike out of Kelsey Cripe and baiting Madelyn Schwartz into chasing a bad pitch resulted in a weak ground out.
The Lady Panthers wouldn’t threaten again, while Wawasee finally got its bats going. Madi Anderson doubled, then came home when an error off Sam Malik’s bat allowed Anderson to score the first run in the bottom of the fourth inning.
An inning later, Wawasee took full advantage of a tiring Katie Rohr in the circle, effectively putting itself out of reach. Back-to-back singles by Kylie Norris and Allie Ousley showed its effects on Rohr, who walked three of the next four hitters. Stacie Carr and Paige Hlutke then followed with consecutive RBI singles. Norris would later drive in another run, putting Wawasee up 6-0 and comfortable for the first time all night.
“We needed to have everybody contribute, and we got that from the whole lineup tonight,” Wawasee head coach Cory Schutz said. “NorthWood did play well. I told the girls the longer we let them hang around, the tougher it was going to be. Once we got a couple runs on the board, the girls seemed to calm down a bit.”
Routson wouldn’t need any more offensive help. NorthWood (5-23) hadn’t put a runner on base until the fourth, and collected just two hits all evening, both by Rylee Beck. Routson would strike out 10 and didn’t walk a batter, setting up a showdown of frontline starters against Lakeland in the championship game. Led by Ashlynn Grubb, who struck out 19 Lady Warriors in a March one-hitter, pitching will be on display in the title game.
“Gabi did a great job,” Schutz said. “She has always been good, but she become a very, very good pitcher this year. She is hitting her spots, and she is missing close to make the pitch look good, which gets the swings at balls out of the zone.
“When she had to paint a corner, she did that. I think they only had one really hard hit ball, that was caught in right field.”
Lakeland reached the championship game by outlasting a heartbroken Fairfield team burned by costly errors.
Fairfield (23-8) had runners on second and third with one out in the fourth inning, but ran themselves into a double play to end the threat. Lakeland made its money at the expense of two crucial errors made by the Fairfield defense in the top of the ninth inning. Consecutive singles by Grubb, Alexis Myers and Morgan Meyers had the bases loaded. A fly ball off the bat Jill Mingus was dropped in right field, allowing a run to score. The true heartbreak came two batters later, when a dropped baby toss to first base allowed two more runs to score.
The setup now has Lakeland (18-12) facing Wawasee (16-13) for the right to host the 3A regional next Tuesday. The winner will play the winner from the Leo sectional, which will also conclude Thursday night.
“We have to be selectively aggressive,” Schutz foreshadowed of how to beat Grubb, who also beat Wawasee in last year’s sectional. “She is going to put the ball in the zone early, then she will try to get you to chase pitches. We have to be smart on what pitches we go after, and not chase the pitches she wants us to chase.”