SYRACUSE — It ended up only taking one to get number two as the Wawasee softball team clinched its second-consecutive conference championship Friday night with a 1-0 win over visiting Plymouth.
In a game that many figured would have plenty of offensive fireworks from the Green and Gold, it was a stellar pitching performance that highlighted the title-clinching win.
“There were times this year where, to be honest, we didn’t have a lot of confidence in her,” said Wawasee head coach Jared Knipper of his starting pitcher Amber Lemberg. “It was never that we didn’t trust her, we just had to be ab;e to see her perform in the game and that wasn’t always happening at the start of the year.
“Once we got a little bit of a break and were able to to get her some good innings and I think we’re seeing her back to playing the way she was before her injury.”
Lemberg, who missed most of the 2015 campaign with a knee injury, struggled in the circle to start the season but has since gotten back some of her swagger that became so noticeable during her freshman and sophomore campaigns.
“I was stressed at the start of the season, it stressed me out to pitch. I was very paranoid about my knee,” Lemberg offered. “I finally was able to get that hesitation out my head and I started working more outside of practice. Once I cleared my mind and was able to focus on the game, I got my mojo back.”
Lemberg had plenty of “mojo” working in Friday’s win. The junior hurled 96 pitches, walked three, fanned eight and gave up just one hit in seven innings of work.
Some aggressive base running in the early goings of the game cost the Warriors potential runs. With Wawasee’s offense not producing, the pressure was constantly on Lemberg and the Warrior defense. The home nine never faltered and were able to keep Plymouth from doing an damage.
It was senior night at Warrior Field, which made it very fitting when four-year varsity starter Kylee Rosotchak finally broke the scoreless tie in the fifth inning with an RBI single that scored Madie Wilson.
Wawasee had five hits as a team, led by Kayla White’s 2-2 performance.
Before the 2015 season, Wawasee had never won a Northern Lakes Conference softball title, and now the Warriors have back-to-back championships for the trophy case. That’s an accomplishment the senior class is more than happy to hang its hat on.
“This helps to take the pressure off moving forward,” Rostochak said. “Now we can relax and focus on getting better as a team before the sectional begins.”
That team aspect is what has helped bring Wawasee so much success in recent seasons, so what’s the secret?
“I think the experience is what sets us apart,” Rostochak continued. “We’ve all played together for so long and we know how to win.”
Fellow senior Allissa Flores answered that question eerily similar to Rostochak.
“I think we’re unique because we’re an older team,” stated Flores. “We’ve been playing together for four years at this point and we’ve known each other much longer than that. We have a really good bond, there’s no odd person on this team. We all love each other and we all have each other’s back.”
The team’s other seniors, Cristina DeLaFuente and Danille Gunkel, have contributed just as much on the field as Flores and Rosotchak, but neither felt comfortable doing an interview. DeLaFuente even cited not being a good speaker as her reason for forgoing the quick Q and A.
With another conference title under wraps the Warriors can focus on fixing the little things before rolling into the sectional.
“The biggest thing we’ll be doing is working on aspects of the game that I think we’ll need if we’re going to win the sectional,” Knipper stated. “We’ll get some good competition this week with Goshen, Concord and Bremen. Win or lose, the focus of the game is to make sure we’re working real, live situations and knowing what to do so we can be prepared to make a run to state.”
Wawasee (20-4, 11-1) will host Goshen Monday evening.