LAGRANGE – The stage is set for Thursday’s Lakeland Softball Sectional championship, and the two teams left know each other really well. Wawasee and Fairfield each posted big wins Tuesday to set up a rematch in the Class 3-A sectional, a matchup everyone has anticipated.
Wawasee 9, West Noble 0
In a scene much like Wawasee’s ominous start Tuesday in its win over Lakeland, a slow offensive start for the Lady Warriors eventually saw the offense get going. Wawasee plated a run in the first inning, but didn’t break through until the fourth with it scratched across six runs with the help of some sloppy West Noble defense.
Three West Noble errors, along with moments of Charger indecision, allowed Wawasee to keep the wheels moving. Two miscues to open the inning had Wawasee not move a ball out of the infield in eight straight at bats, but get six runs out of the pressure from its base running. Madie Wilson’s ground out brought in the seventh run of the game, the wheels officially falling off West Noble’s wagon.
“You can’t start slow against good teams,” said Wawasee head coach Mike Barger. “If you continue to start slow, you aren’t going to achieve what you are looking for. You gotta start fast. It got to the fourth inning when all of a sudden we come alive. We start to bunt and we start to move around runners. They made a mistake on a throw, next thing you know everybody is running around and everybody is energized. But it worked.”
With the way Amber Lemberg was pitching, the one run in the first inning would have been enough. Lemberg only allowed two West Noble offerings to reach the outfield grass, the lone Charger hit a Makenna Taylor blooper over Wilson’s head in the third.
Otherwise, Lemberg was flawless, walking none and fanning 14 hitters to tie the all-time program strikeout record. She almost had the 15th, Kaylie Warble’s check swing ruled to not cross the plain, Warble later popping out to end the game.
“She just gets into a rhythm,” Barger said of Lemberg, who is 8-0 this season with a 1.30 ERA. “She’ll throw the first four of five pitches before the game starts, then it’s just me calling pitches. I gotta be ready, because she is wanting to pitch. She just gets into the groove.
“Once she gets into her comfort zone, she starts to move the ball, she doesn’t try to overpower anybody. She hits her spots. If they hit the ball, she knows her defense is back there.”
Aubrey Kuhn had three hits and an RBI, Kayla White drove in three and Ale Brito had two hits and two runs scored for the Lady Warriors.
West Noble’s campaign comes to a close at 5-16.
Fairfield 17, Tippecanoe Valley 10
For a moment, it looked as though the two teams in the nightcap would trade blows into the LaGrange night. Fairfield decided to send the knockout punch.
Tippecanoe Valley clawed back from a 7-1 deficit to take an 8-7 lead, only for Fairfield to immediately respond with seven runs to switch the momentum in a hurry.
Valley scored four runs in the third on RBI singles from Sydney Howard, Kayla Scott and Taylor Czichilski as well as a bases loaded walk from Ally Betten. A three-run fourth had Abby Betten double in a run, then Scott had a sacrifice fly and Ally Betten scored on a wild pitch. The stunning turn of events had the Vikes up 8-7 and smelling blood in the water.
“That’s what they love to do, they love to hit,” said Tippecanoe Valley head coach Daryl Shoemaker of his club’s rally. “We came from behind in at least three conference games this year. They know if we can get the first couple of runners, and that hitting can get contagious, with this group, these girls can hit. That’s what we say when we go somewhere, let’s come here and do what we do best, let’s hit the ball.”
The sharks, however, were wearing navy. Fairfield dropped a seven-run frame on two-run doubles from Jenean Schwartz and Sam Shank, an RBI double from Bobbie Freese and run-scoring single from Morgan Sanchez along with a sacrifice fly from Chloe Dell. Just like that, it was 14-8. Fairfield added three more before Valley got its final two in the seventh.
Scott, Abby Betten and Katie Prater all had two hits for Valley, Scott and Kirstyn Yoder each driving in two runs. Freese and Sanchez each had three knocks for the Falcons, and Sanchez and Julia Brown scored three runs apiece.
Kinsey Miller got the win in relief, holding Valley to two runs in four innings of work.
Added Shoemaker, “You’ve got two teams that like to hit the ball and they both slugged it out. They just had more than we did in the end.”
Tippecanoe Valley’s season ends at 10-15 overall.
The collision course between Wawasee (23-3) and Fairfield (10-10) is set for 6 p.m. Thursday. It will be the fifth year in a row the two have met in the sectional, Fairfield winners of three of the past four matchups. Fairfield won the 2016 championship over Wawasee and went onto the semi-state, while Wawasee’s lone win in the span was in 2014, when it won its only sectional in the past six years. Wawasee won the 2017 regular season matchup 12-2 in Benton.