WARSAW – The Warsaw softball team outplayed sectional foe Northridge for the final six innings Tuesday night.
If the Tigers could have just skipped the first frame, they would be playing for a sectional title come Friday night.
The Raiders, however, used a strong start to hold off a game Warsaw squad 4-2 in the semifinal nightcap of the Class 4-A Warsaw Sectional.
Northridge, now 14-8, advances to play Elkhart Memorial in the title game at 6:30 p.m. Friday. The teams split during the regular season in conference play with Northridge winning 13-6 in April and Memorial taking game two 4-3 in May. Northridge lost 3-2 to Concord in the sectional finale in 2015.
The winner of the Warsaw Sectional will play at the winner of the Mishawaka Sectional next Tuesday night in a one-game regional.
Memorial outscored defending sectional champion Concord by a 13-10 count in the first semifinal Tuesday night. The Crimson Chargers, who split with the Minutemen during the regular season, got three hits and four runs scored by Kaylee Warner and two hits and three RBI from winning pitcher Kim Lucas in the win.
The Raiders, who beat Warsaw by a combined score of 22-1 in a pair of Northern Lakes Conference contests in the regular season, found the going much tougher in the postseason.
Northridge plated four runs in the home half of the first inning to take control. The Raiders had four straight hits in the opening frame, highlighted by RBI singles by sophomore Sami Deisler and senior Kylee Lantz. Northridge also scored a pair of runs on a grounder to second that resulted in an errant late throw home that made it 4-0.
“I just think that we came out and really tried to do too much in that first inning,” said Warsaw coach Kevin Dishman. “Four runs versus that team is a lot to score. They earned two of them. But to give them four was a killer.
“We talk about coming out and throwing the first punch. Tonight, they did and got us back on our heels a little bit. But I thought that our girls were ready to play and confident. We knew that we would have to go through Northridge at some point.”
The Tigers settled in quite nicely after the tough start. Warsaw cut the lead to 4-1 in the third inning as a fine bunt single by sophomore Saylor Bradley scored a run. Northridge freshman hurler Allison Hosteler got a flight and a strikeout though to end the threat as Warsaw left two on base.
Warsaw cut the lead in half with another tally in the fourth frame. Hayley Brock drove in a run with a groundout to first to make it 4-2. The Tigers though left two more runners on base in the inning. Warsaw managed just one more baserunner in the final three innings, on a walk, as Hostetler retired nine of the final 10 Tiger hitters.
Freshman Courtney Chookie did an outstanding job in the circle after the rough first frame. The right-hander allowed just two singles over the final five innings and no hits after the fourth frame. She had three strikeouts and one walk.
“Our girls settled down and really played a good, solid game,” Dishman said. “They never gave up. Courtney hit her spots after the first. She got the ball where we wanted it on their hitters. Our seniors are all great girls. They have a lot of character. I can’t fault their effort all season.”
Hosteler allowed five hits while striking out eight and walking two. In the previous two games, she allowed Warsaw a total of just six hits with 16 strikeouts.
“The two earlier games against them were our two worst of the season,” remarked Dishman. “Tonight we increased our quality at bats against her.”
Warsaw, which finishes at 6-20, will lose seniors Heather Cox, Olivia Timmerman, Taylor Sleeth, Sarah Shoemaker, Brock and Kaitlin Hopkins.
Outstanding freshman catcher Grace Johnson, who led the Tigers in virtually every offensive category this season, will also be gone as she will be moving out of state with her family. Johnson’s mother Heather was the softball coach at Grace College and her dad Jay has been coaching softball at Elon University in North Carolina for the past year. Jay was formerly an assistant coach at Grace College before taking a job last year as an assistant coach at Elon, an NCAA Division I program.
“I’m very excited for next year,” noted Dishman. “I had 14 freshmen on the JV and another four over here with the varsity.”