NAPPANEE – NorthWood freshman Gracie Clark has not pitched a lot of innings this softball season.
She looked like a seasoned veteran though when it mattered the most Wednesday night.
Clark worked her way out of tough jams in the final two innings to cap off a gutty complete game effort as the Panthers held off Elkhart Memorial 4-3.
Clark was cool, calm and collected in the circle in just her second start of the season in the Northern Lakes Conference contest.
Memorial had runners on second and third with no outs in their final at bat down a pair of runs. Clark got a pair of groundouts, sandwiched around a huge strikeout, to preserve the one-run win. The Chargers also left runners on second and third to end the sixth inning.
The NorthWood defense also did its part to help Clark, normally the starting shortstop for her squad. The Panthers turned double plays to end both the fourth and fifth frames, including a nifty 6-4-3 one in the fourth.
NorthWood, playing for the third straight night, improves to 5-7 overall and moves to 2-3 in conference play. Memorial drops to 1-14 overall and sits at 1-4 in league action.
NorthWood coach Mandy DeMien, a former standout at Northridge High School and Bethel College, liked the work of her freshman in the circle.
“Gracie did an excellent job tonight,” said DeMien, now in her fourth season as the NorthWood coach. “This was just her second start of the season and with Hannah (Stickley) pitching our entire game Monday night and most of the game Tuesday night we went with her. I have confidence in her. She really kept her composure well tonight.”
Hannah Stickley, one of just two seniors for the Panthers, cracked a two-out, two-run single in the third frame for the big hit for the host Panthers.
NorthWood took a 2-0 lead on Stickley’s clutch hit in the fourth. It scored senior standout Summer Stillson, a four-year regular for the Panthers, who had singled and Clark, who had reached on a Memorial error.
The Panthers plated two more runs in the fourth frame for a 4-0 lead. Kylie Hochstetler delivered a sacrifice fly to make it 3-0 and the hosts made it 4-0 after a bunt hit and an error.
“Hannah was clutch tonight with that big hit,” said DeMien of her cleanup hitter. “She’s been seeing the ball well all week. This week was huge for us, going to Warsaw and getting a conference win Monday and then winning tonight. It helps our confidence.”
“It was a rough start (0-3) in the NLC playing Wawasee, Concord and Northridge. Summer is our leader. We have a lot of girls figuring it out. They are understanding how hard they have to work every day. We’re getting there.”
Clark allowed just one single through the first three innings. She finished the game with five strikeouts and no walks.
Jasmine Curry had an RBI single in the sixth inning and Liz Ekema drove home a run seventh with a groundout for Memorial, which has just two seniors.
Sophomore Sydney Ryan went the distance in the circle for the Chargers. She had four strikeouts and three walks.
NorthWood plays at Plymouth in NLC action Friday evening and at Triton Saturday. Memorial plays at league foe Northridge Friday night.