BENTON — There always seems to be a defining moment during a championship run. A key hit. A great pitching performance. Or just something that is talked about for years on end.
That moment may have come in the third inning of Lakeland’s 2-0 win over Wawasee in the championship game at the Fairfield Softball Sectional.
Already leading 1-0 after Kizzie Trinh led off the inning with a walk and came around to score on an RBI single by Lauren McKibben, things got very interesting. An error during McKibben’s hit on the throw allowed McKibben to reach second base. A passed ball moved McKibben to third during Carolyn Hershberger’s at bat.
After nearly a dozen foul balls, Wawasee pitcher Gabi Routson finally got Hershberger to swing at a ball and miss. The ball, however, was ruled to have hit the dirt, and while Hershberger walked almost entirely into her dugout, Lakeland coach Sherry Severson sent McKibben home and urged Hershberger to run to first. Wawasee had already vacated the field, thinking the play was over. As Hershberger continued to round the bases, Wawasee finally picked up the ball and tagged out Hershberger at home, but McKibben’s run was allowed to stand as tempers flared from Wawasee’s side.
“I don’t think I have ever had a play like that,” a diplomatic Wawasee head coach Cory Schutz said afterwards. “Whether it makes the overall outcome, I don’t know. We didn’t hit the ball enough is basically what it boils down to. It was a 1-0 game without that run.”
Severson, who stated she didn’t notice how far Hershberger had gotten from the batters box toward the dugout, maintained it was the right call.
“From my vantage point, it bounced, it wasn’t much, but it hit dirt and then glove,” began Severson, “(Wawasee catcher Paige Hlutke) fielded it cleanly but it has to be in her mitt and not hit the ground first.
Our runners should be running across to first anyway. I shouldn’t have to be running down the line screaming.”
The two runs on the board were more than enough for Lakeland ace Ashlynn Grubb, who continued to mow down Wawasee batters. The Lady Warriors would outhit Lakeland 5-2 on the evening, but only had a real threat brewing in the fourth when Madi Anderson and Sam Malik had back-to-back singles. But Anderson was stranded on third when Grubb got Stacie Carr to pop out to second base.
On the night, Grubb struck out 13 Lady Warriors, needing just 11 pitches in the final inning to strike out the side to give Lakeland its first sectional championship since 1998.
“I have confidence, I have to be ready in the circle because everyone is counting on me,” said Grubb, who fired three shutouts in the sectional, including a no-hitter against Tippecanoe Valley, and struck out 30 in the three games. “It means everything. We haven’t won in so long. Everyone in school said we wouldn’t be able to pull it off. So to be able to go back and say we won a sectional, its very nice.”
Lakeland (20-12) now moves onto hosting the regional Tuesday against 3A No. 2 Woodlan (29-1), which disposed of Leo, 6-0, at the Leo Sectional. The Lady Lakers, after winning its fifth sectional title Thursday night, will look to add its second regional title, going back to 1993 when Lakeland reached its only semi-state appearance.
Wawasee closes its season at 16-14 and loses a pair of seniors in Amber Yoder and Routson. Yoder finished the night 0-3 at the plate, Routson was also 0-3 but will be remembered for her work in the pitching circle. In her swan song, the senior gave up just the two singles to McKibben and struck out five.
“Gabi did a phenomenal job tonight,” Schutz said. “She pitched well enough to win. We just didn’t give her enough defense behind her. Not that we played bad, we played good defensively, we just didn’t make a couple of plays we needed to. She will be missed.”