By Mike Deak
ELKHART – The Northern Lakes Conference smiled late Tuesday evening as the Class 3-A Jimtown Sectional assured an NLC team will host a regional after both Wawasee and NorthWood won their semi-final games.
Wawasee 7, Lakeland 1
Chloe McRobbie’s approach was obvious and aggressive in game one against Lakeland.
Wawasee and Lakeland were drawn level through four innings, but the Warriors had left at least one runner on base in each of the four innings, and had the bases loaded in the first before Kathryn Flannery hit a rope to second to end the threat.
Flannery would strike back, however, with a huge two-run single to open the scoring in the fifth. Flannery would add another two-run shot in the sixth, a missile down the right field line that put Wawasee up 7-0 in stunning fashion.
“Kathryn Flannery really pulled through for us today,” said McRobbie. “Having runners on second and third two times and getting the job done was huge for us. Super proud of how she did today.”
Kiaundra Olson had three hits and an RBI, scoring two runs, and Jaci Worrell anchored the bottom of the lineup with four executed bunts, three of them landing her safely at first.
As Wawasee finally arose to prominence in the fifth, then the sixth, Haylee Allen was keeping her team in it. The freshman pitcher only needed 84 pitches to complete the game, allowing just three hits. What was more impressive was her method of attacking Lakeland superstar and Coastal Carolina recruit Keirstin Roose. Roose, who had 18 homers and 33 RBI coming into the night, didn’t crush a pitch all night, including her blooper in the seventh that found grass enough for a double, Roose coming around to score Lakeland’s run in the seventh.
“Roose is an extremely talented hitter so I told my pitchers right away we are not giving her anything pretty,” McRobbie said. “Everything is going to be extreme inside or extreme outside. If she wants to swing at it, she can. (Allen) did a really good job hitting her spots and not giving her anything too low in the zone because Roose does hit well low in the zone.”
NorthWood 13, Jimtown 11
Now that school is out, NorthWood softball is preferring to play its ball well past bedtime.
For the second night in a row, NorthWood played a marathon game. After beating West Noble in nine innings Monday, it took nearly three hours to finish off Jimtown in what started as sunny skies that eventually turned into a rain delay and plenty of Pepto Bismol under a cloak of darkness.
NorthWood rushed out to a 6-0 lead on two-run singles from Kailey Martin and Carly Mast in the third, then Mast added another RBI single in the fifth as the Panthers were all over the hosts.
“Jumping on them right away, that is what I preach to my girls,” NorthWood head coach Mandy DeMien stated. “When we jump on teams right away, we are the team we want to be. When we let teams get in there, we have to fight, and that’s hard. It was huge that we scored first and scored early.”
Hannah Zellers, however, was part of the Jimtown rally in the sixth, rapping a two-run single to cut the lead to 7-4, but NorthWood hurler Autumn Miller got out of trouble as the rain began to fall.
In the seventh, the skies opened up as NorthWood was in the middle of a run. Macy Lengacher walked to load the bases as it began to rain sideways, halting play. When play resumed about 20 minutes later, Jimtown pitching lost total control, as two hit-by-pitch and a walk all brought in runs, as did a solid single by Sydney King. A late hit batsman by Paige Jacobs along with a walk to Martin moved the score to 13-4 and the Panthers feeling very good about itself.
But the tired arm of Miller, who threw 101 pitches Monday and then got to 131 before totally running out of gas with two outs in the seventh, allowed Jimtown to mount a mega rally and make it too close for comfort.
Five singles, two walks and two errors helped the Jims push across seven runs in the seventh, forcing DeMien to pull Miller in favor of Ashyln Brooke to get the last out. The Jims had the winning run at the plate when Brooke got Nealey Bryant to ground out to end the game, sending NorthWood to the sectional final against Wawasee, looking for its first-ever softball sectional title.
“We just have to take it one pitch at a time and see what we can do,” DeMien said after a deep breath. “Thankfully we get two days of rest. I am proud of my team. We are playing as a team, together, and now is the time. It doesn’t matter what we did early in the season, we are 2-0 right now in the second season.”
Martin had two hits, three RBI and three runs scored, Halle DeMien added two hits and a run, and Morgan Jenkins reached base four times and scored a run.
Just four of Jimtown’s runs scored on Miller were earned, and the sophomore struck out three.
The Jimtown Softball Sectional championship is set for 6 p.m. Friday, NorthWood (9-15) seeking its first title and Wawasee (5-21-1) looking for its seventh overall and first since 2017 when it made the semi-state.