SYRACUSE – It was an environment unlike any Wawasee softball has ever seen. And one that Leo is glad it is leaving in high spirits.
A crowd of well over 600 wrapped around the Wawasee softball diamond Tuesday evening for the softball regional between Leo and Wawasee. The visiting Lions, taking advantage of Wawasee fielding miscues, managed to escape with a 3-2 Class 3-A regional championship.
Hannah Risser was a thorn in Wawasee’s side all night. With two outs in the first, Risser was hit by an Amber Lemberg pitch then came around to score as Wawasee threw the ball around on a Risser stolen base attempt. Risser also singled and scored in the fourth on a sacrifice fly by Abbie Heischman to put Leo up 3-1. Lindsey Bowers came around to score on another Wawasee throwing error earlier in the fourth inning.
“They made a couple mistakes to allow us a couple runs and we made a couple mistakes that allowed them to have one more,” stated Wawasee head coach Jared Knipper. “Typically that doesn’t happen. We should have scored a couple more runs to give us different circumstances.”
Defensive miscues were big in the game. Wawasee’s two errors proved huge in the game, but Leo kept shooting itself in the foot committing five errors.
A fielding error in the third inning allowed Cristina DeLaFuente to score Wawasee’s first run. A great throw from center fielder Morgan Poeppel to gun down Kylee Rostochak at the plate in the same inning kept the game tied at one.
Ale Brito pulled Wawasee within one at 3-2 in the sixth inning with a single to left field, scoring Danielle Gunkel. Wawasee, however, left the tying run at third when Bowers got Madie Wilson to pop out. DeLaFuente, who reached on an error to open the seventh, never made it past second. Bowers, who was clearly laboring in the final inning, got a strikeout and two weak groundouts to give Leo its first regional championship.
Bowers gave up eight hits and struck out only three batters but walked none.
Lemberg, who had been fantastic in the Fairfield Sectional, worked off some early jitters and settled into another fine outing. The freshman tossed all seven innings, giving up six hits, walking one and struck out one.
“I wouldn’t say we let this one slip away, that’s one of the best games we played this year,” Knipper said. “We came out hitting the ball hard and put the pressure on them early. If we get a hit or two more at the right time, that’s a completely different game. Our kids played their guts out all season and we had a spectacular turn out. They should be proud to wear that uniform and be part of the Wawasee program.”
Wawasee, which closes out the season at 20-11, earned the most wins in school history. Tuesday, it looked as though its hitting would wear down Leo, putting at least two runners on in the first three innings. But the Lady Warriors left five runners in scoring position including the tying runs on base in the sixth and seventh.
Leo (24-6) will move into the four-team Twin Lakes Semi-state where it will face Hanover Central (29-4), which beat Griffith, 9-1, at Griffith. Wawasee, which hosted the regional for the first time, has never won a regional title in five tries.
As disappointed as Wawasee was with the loss, the team loses just one senior in Courtney Crabtree and will build off a season that had the program win 45 varsity and junior varsity games. The offseason will be a very interesting one for the Lady Warriors.
“There is nothing but good things,” Knipper said. “When I took over this program, I looked them in the eye and said our goal is to win a state championship. That is the ultimate goal. I don’t see a kid on this team we can’t put together and make a run at that.”