WARSAW — Warsaw softball coach Kevin Dishman had an interesting pitching strategy in store of familiar foe Concord at Wednesday night’s softball sectional semifinal.
Rather than throw ace Courtney Chookie — who the Minutemen have seen numerous times over the past four seasons — at them, he threw everyone else. And the strategy worked pretty well, too. Trouble was, the Lady Tigers couldn’t give their pitching staff any run support.
Concord senior Alexis Kern pitched a one-hit shutout, and the Minutemen advanced to the championship at the Class 4-A Warsaw Sectional with a 3-0 win over the hosts.
“Our game plan tonight was to throw all of our pitchers at them one at a time,” explained Dishman.
“The decision was made because we wanted to throw a little bit of everything at them. We didn’t want them to get comfortable because when they get comfortable and they see you a couple times through the order, then they start killing you, and we wanted to keep them off guard. Things were working the way we had it planned other than we didn’t hit the ball.”
“We’ve seen Chookie for four straight years, so honestly that was basically my scouting report was what we needed to do against her,” said Concord coach Dawn Austin. “So clearly that was a great game plan on his part — throw a couple people in there, see if they can throw us off a little bit, and for the most part it worked. Two more runs and honestly with Alexis, the way she was throwing, I was pretty comfortable going into the seventh.”
Concord jumped on top with a run in the bottom of the first, when Yadira Gomez reached on a leadoff walk from Warsaw starter Hudson Bollinger, and Alysa Marcin and Skyler Decker recorded back-to-back singles before Bollinger wriggled off the hook to keep the Tigers’ deficit to a manageable 1-0.
After three scoreless innings from Bollinger and a fourth from Kennedy Tennant, the Minutemen got to closer Tauri Tackett in the sixth, as Zoey Stender cranked a leadoff double to the right field fence, Mayla Herman followed up with a bunt single, and Madison Kelly scored Stender with a sacrifice fly to center. Kern was hit by a pitch, Makenna Carington singled, and Gomez drove a two-out grounder through the gap at third to score courtesy runner Emily Hess, more runs than Concord would ever need.
While the Tigers only got one hit Wednesday — a blooper from Tackett in the top of the second — they did have their opportunities in the loss. The biggest missed chance came in the fifth, when Avery Clark was hit by a pitch, Carmen Albertson drew a walk, and Hailey Locke was hit by another pitch to load the bags with only one out. When Katie Anderson ripped a fly to deep center, it looked like Warsaw would even it up, but Avery inexplicably held up at third, and Albertson was caught off guard in the no-man’s land between second and third with nowhere to go, resulting in a double play.
“That’s softball 101 — fly ball, less than two outs, you’re tagging. Five steps off the bag is all it takes,” Dishman said.
“Albertson did tag and then she came off the bag hard; she just wasn’t sure of what was going on in front of her. All she needed to do was slow the play down a little bit and allow Avery to score. But really, you’ve got to drive a ball, you’ve got to hit a ball, you’ve got to hit some gaps or it’s not going to happen.”
“The nice thing about it defensively was that we did absolutely everything right on that play,” said Austin. “The center fielder Maddie (Loge) throws into the cut rather than, I mean, sometimes we get overanxious and want to throw it all the way in. It might’ve gotten past the catcher or something, but the cut cut it the way it was supposed to be, saw the runner, wasn’t afraid to throw it to second base. Sometimes with a runner on three or something she might’ve hesitated on that, but they made all the right defensive plays to get us out of that.”
Bollinger took the loss, giving up one earned run off four hits, a walk and a hit batsman in four innings of work. Kern got the shutout win, surrendering just one hit with seven strikeouts but walking three and hitting another three Warsaw batters going the distance.
“I really wasn’t concerned about them hitting her hard; it was just a matter of whether or not we let people on base with hit batters and walks. Sometimes that’s Alexis’ story, and she finds a way or defensively we find a way to get out of that and/ or find a way to just hit the ball to make up for it,” Austin said.
Concord advances to the championship to face Northridge, a 5-1 winner over Elkhart Memorial in Wednesday’s late semifinal, scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday.
Warsaw bows out of the year at 8-20 and will lose six seniors to graduation.
“They’re all great girls. There’s six of them, and they’re all going to college,” said Dishman of his seniors.
“Next year, we’re going to be strong. We still have strong leadership. Middle infield, left side is going to be strong. We’ve got a good catcher, and as you can see we’ve got a couple pitchers, so that’s not going to be a problem. It’s just a matter of what we have coming up and who is going to fill in the spots in the outfield.”