SYRACUSE – For as slick and lucky as Zack Hample has been chasing down homers in big league parks, he could have had easy pickens Friday afternoon.
Wawasee and NorthWood combined for five homers in a swirling wind in what became a 14-9 Wawasee softball win.
In an effective ‘Wrigley East’ setting, the wind was blowing out for much of the seven innings and so were the flyballs. Hample, famous for catching home run balls in Major League Baseball parks including Bryce Harper’s first as a Phillie earlier this month, wouldn’t have had to fight off anyone in the unpopulated grass in right field as Grace Anglemyer went opposite field for the game’s first homer, which tied the contest at four.
Wawasee, though, would take notes and get the ball into the air in the bottom of the fourth when Faith Swihart crushed a solo homer to get the lead back for her club.
An inning later, Wawasee used the long ball again to take command of the game. Graceanne Kerlin stroked a single to lead off the bottom of the fifth, then Kiaundra Olson launched a homer to left to put Wawasee up 7-4. After loading the bases, Abi Smith walked to bring in a run, then Bethany Flannery stepped up and crushed a grand slam to center, her fifth homer of the season, and Wawasee was now up 12-4.
“We’ve really been working hard on hitting line drives and staying on inside outside pitches and taking what’s given,” said Wawasee coach Chloe McRobbie. “I’ve been telling the girls when they go up to the plate, they have to own that at-bat and tell themselves they are the best hitter here. If they believe that, it doesn’t matter what the pitcher throws, they have a great chance to get on base.”
NorthWood clawed a couple runs back, highlighted by an RBI double off the fence by Amanda Jenkins.
Abi Smith, who is 8-for-8 in two Northern Lakes Conference games as a Wawasee freshman, clubbed a triple to the fence to drive in drive in two.
Madison Miller, who was touched up for 11 hits, seven walks and 12 runs in the circle, got a little pride back after mashing her first homer of the season in the seventh.
“I don’t really know what was going on with Madison tonight,” said NorthWood head coach Mandy DeMien. “She made some great pitches, but then left some in the zone and Wawasee is a great hitting team, and we knew that coming in here. I’ve split time with my pitchers this year with Gracie (Clark) and Madison. Maybe I should have switched tonight a little sooner. Tough night.”
Both teams combined for 32 hits, 14 for extra bases. Wawasee, now 3-0 in the Northern Lakes Conference, has scored 36 runs in the conference. NorthWood, which falls to 0-3 in NLC play, has had its troubles against a Murderer’s Row to start the NLC with games against co-defending champions Concord (6-5 loss) and Northridge (9-2 loss) and now Wawasee, which was in the Class 3-A semi-state two years ago.
“This team is really improving, and our conference rotation is the worst starting with Concord, Northridge and Wawasee,” DeMien said. “I liked what I saw at the plate with our girls tonight. I couldn’t tell you the last time we scored nine runs in a conference game. We hit the ball really well today, hit two homers. Just a tough loss when you hit the ball that well.”
The last time NorthWood scored nine or more runs in an NLC game was May 17, 2017, in a 10-4 win at Goshen.
For the night, Clark, Anglemyer and Kylie Thornton all had three hits for the Panthers, Clark and Anglemyer both scoring twice. Swihart and Smith both had three hits and three RBIs for the Warriors, Smith also walking twice and Swihart scoring four runs.
Wawasee, which lost its home invitational to predicted weather Saturday, will prepare for a showdown Monday at Northridge. McRobbie noted Olson, who has three wins in the circle despite allowing 14 earned runs including seven on Friday, should be up for the challenge as the NLC slate ramps up.
“I think Kiaundra is doing well,” McRobbie said. “She’s run into a couple rough spots these last couple games, but for her it’s just about staying confident and continuing to work her spots. We’ve played some good defense behind her and of course the bats have been alive lately so I think overall we’re OK.”
NorthWood (4-7) visits Warsaw Monday, Wawasee (7-4) travels to Northridge.