SYRACUSE – Any coach will tell you getting a tournament game at home is a blessing. For a team with so much state tournament inexperience as Wawasee has, playing Tuesday’s regional game at home can only be considered a blessing.
“Getting to play a game at home surely is a benefit for us,” said Wawasee head coach Jared Knipper following his team’s sectional championship win against Lakeland Thursday. “When you have a team with as many young kids as we have, just being on a familiar field can only help.”
Wawasee, which has just one senior on its roster and upwards of four freshmen starting, has looked anything but rattled in three convincing sectional wins. A shutout of Tippecanoe Valley, followed by a win over defending champion Fairfield and second shutout over Lakeland in the final left Wawasee looking pretty good ahead of its regional game Tuesday with Leo. The pitching of freshman Amber Lemberg, who worked 20 of the 21 innings in the sectional, along with timely hits up and down the lineup, have the Lady Warriors looking tough.
Wawasee (20-10) had entered the sectional on a three-game slide, but now stand as the winningest team in program history.
“Who isn’t playing better,” ushered Knipper. “The entire team has taken that off week and turned it into something to be proud of. There wasn’t a kid on the field that didn’t make a spectacular play on defense, or that failed to come through when needed at the plate collectively. They have been impressive as a whole team unit, where everyone is doing their job.”
Wawasee has reached the regional for the first time since 2010, where it was shut out by Jenny Bals and South Bend St. Joseph on Bals’ perfect game. Tuesday’s 6 p.m. start will be the first-ever game between Wawasee and Leo, and just the fifth regional appearance for Wawasee, which hosts a regional for the first time.
Leo (23-6) celebrated its third sectional crown last week after beating Garrett and Fort Wayne Dwenger at the Angola Sectional.
The winner of the Wawasee Regional will move to the Twin Lakes Semi-State for Saturday’s four-team bracket. On the other half of the regional feed to Twin Lakes will be the winner of Hanover Central (28-4) and Griffith (6-20). The other half of the Twin Lakes Semi-state finals will feature either Yorktown, Norwell, Western or South Bend St. Joseph’s.
But for Knipper and his group, business as usual with Leo the only focus.
“Nothing changes,” Knipper said of his team’s prep for the regional. “Leo is no different just the next game on the schedule. Practice gives us time to work on the things we need to fix with in ourselves.”