BENTON — It was a perfect scene of the joy and the agony that sports bring to so many. In the middle of the diamond at Falcon Field, members of Fairfield’s softball team and its fans laughed and celebrated. The Falcons had just clinched their second consecutive softball title and third in four years. It would be hard to truly describe the jubilation being put on display.
Just a few hundred feet away sat Wawasee’s players, many in tears, many just dumbfounded. Situated in a semi-circle facing back towards Farifield’s victory rally, the Warriors tried to figure out what could have been done differently.
In what was an excellent pitcher’s dual No. 9 Fairfield outlasted No. 6 Wawasee 1-0 in the championship bout of the IHSAA Class 3-A Fairfield Sectional 21 Tournament.
“We hung everything on Lairen (Miller) this year,” Fairfield coach John Skibbe when asked about his starting pitcher. “We didn’t have two pitchers to lean on so it was a big concern to have her rested for this week. It’s her senior year and we didn’t know how she would handle this role or how she would respond. She wanted it extremely bad, you can’t doubt her desire to win.”
Miller was excellent in the circle for Fairfield. She wasn’t blowing pitches by Wawasee, but the senior was keeping the powerful offense of the Warriors at bay by keeping the hitters frustrated.
Wawasee go a hold of several balls during the evening, nearly knocking three out of the park, but each one was hit just a bit short. Everything else was seemingly hit right at the Falcon outfielders. Wawasee struggled to adjust, continually offering at Miller’s high approach in the zone. Miller allowed just three hits and struck out three batters.
When Wawasee was on defense, there was more excellence in the circle. Meghan Fretz pitched all seven innings for the Warriors, striking out two and allowing just four hits. Fretz kept things low, leading to many ground balls. The junior was confident and reliable.
It became clear early on that the first team to blink would be the one to pay. Fairfield’s Alexis Zook was happy to hand that bill to the Warriors.
With one out in the top of the third, Zook reached first following an error at second base on a hard-hit ball. Zook made her way to third and was knocked in on a two-out single from Miller. But Zook wasn’t satisfied with just stinging Wawasee on offense.
The Warriors earned their first hit of the game in the bottom of the third thanks to a one-out single from Cristina DeLaFuente. The next batter, lead-off hitter Madie Wilson, lined a ball towards the outfield. It was well-hit, it was probably going to score DeLaFuente and tie the game. It was a ball that only a handful of shortstops in the state could have made a play on, Zook is one of those shortstops.
The senior snagged the ball with an incredible leap and got made the throw back to first before DeLaFuente could slide in safe, completing the double play and ending, perhaps, Wawasee’s best offensive opportunity of the evening. Wawasee left six runners on base in the game, none even getting a chance at crossing home.
In the end it was about what Fairfield did more than what Wawasee didn’t do.
“Fairfield isn’t going to give you anything,” stated Jared Knipper, Wawasee’s head coach. “The ball got hit right to them and they made every play they needed to make.”
It was a tough end to such a promising season, but a tougher end to the career of Wawasee’s four seniors, Kylee Rostochak, DeLafuente, Danielle Gunkel and Allissa Flores.
“It’s hard for this group of kids,” Knipper said of his senior class. “They expect to win every game they come out and play and that’s one of the best groups to ever wear a Wawasee uniform. Those kids are going to be missed.”
Though it’s hard for anyone to think of tonight, or maybe even in the coming weeks, the future remains bright for Wawasee.
“You still have six starters returning,” Knipper said. “Your pitching staff in still intact, you’ve got kids to shift around to cover some defensive things. Those kids are going to be talented for years to come. This is the end for our seniors, but it’s not the end for this program.”
Wawasee finishes the season at 23-6. Fairfield (18-6) will play Fort Wayne Dwenger at home in the regional on Tuesday.