MIDDLEBURY – If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.
The Wawasee softball team came face-to-face with the Northern Lakes Conference’s best team for the second, and final, time on Thursday night. Class 4A No. 5 ranked Northridge had an outright NLC title on the line and had no intentions of losing to the Warriors on its home field.
Northridge stayed strong behind the arm of senior pitcher Haley Nixon to capture a 3-0 victory over Wawasee. The win put the Raiders at 13-1 in conference play, assuring that they would not be sharing the title with anyone else.
The victory for Northridge started and ended with the performance of Nixon in the circle and at the plate.
Nixon was brilliant in the circle, striking out 11 Warrior batters in seven innings of work. Six of those strikeouts had Wawasee looking at a called strike three. While Wawasee put a baserunner on in the top of the first inning after Cristina DeLaFuente reached following a dropped third strike, Nixon did not officially give up a hit until there were two outs in the top of the seventh. Alli Ousley broke up Nixon’s no-no with a bloop single into left field.
When Nixon was not busy fanning opposing batters, she was occupied helping out her own cause. In the bottom of the first, Nixon gave her team its first runs of the day with two outs on the board by smashing a two-out double into the gap between left and center fields.
The hit scored Mikayla Deisler and Grace Grevengoed to put Northridge up 2-0. The Raiders added one insurance run in the third inning after a passed ball brought home Hannah Kistler.
Northridge took only what Wawasee allowed it to have. The Warriors were on their game as well. Wawasee had no errors in Thursday’s contest and really only struggled at the plate with Nixon dealing.
Amber Lemberg started in the circle for Wawasee for the second day in a row, and did more than a serviceable job for her team on essentially no rest. Lemberg pitched all six innings for Wawasee, walking three batters and striking out five in a performance that may have got her a win against any other team. But Wawasee head coach Jared Knipper knows that the future is bright for his team.
“Northridge is the best team on our schedule, hands down,” Knipper said. “I think they are ranked top five in their class and we are two or three hits away from winning this game here today. We were two or three hits away from winning the last game against them as well, we lost that one 12-11.
“Our team is a quarter of the age that theirs is and I saw nothing but positive things from this team tonight and that’s what we’ve seen all season. They have 17 wins so far, I don’t think anybody saw that coming and there is no telling what these girls are capable of, it’s just been nothing but good things this year.”
In the other dugout Northridge head coach Bo O’Dell as happy to see his team rise to the challenge that the young Warrior team presented.
“We knew this would be a little bit tougher of a game than the last time we played,” O’Dell stated. “Haley pitched really well today and we did a nice job of scoring early to take some pressure off of ourselves and put more pressure on them to have to get something done.”
Wawasee (17-9, 8-6) will travel to Bremen on Friday night to take on the Lions in a rematch of an Eastside Tournament game that saw the two squads play nine innings earlier this season. Play starts at 5 p.m.
The Warrior junior varsity squad moved its record to 22-0 and finished its conference season at 14-0 with its 8-5 win over Northridge. Hannah Haines picked up the win for Wawasee, pitching all seven innings, recording six strikeouts in the process. Riley Kunkle smacked a two-run homer to lead Wawasee offensively.