By Mike Deak
ELKHART – Who knew something that looked so easy would end up being so hard?
A seven-run lead in the seventh inning nearly disappeared, but the number one was all that mattered as Wawasee’s Jaci Worrell squeezed the final out of a 12-11 softball sectional championship over NorthWood in the Class 3-A tournament at Jimtown Friday evening.
“NorthWood is not going to lay down and give it to us, that are going to start hitting the ball, you guys have to play good defense,” said Wawasee head coach Chloe McRobbie of the mental mindplay going on in her team’s journey through seven innings of a championship. “This is the third game where they have seen (Haylee Allen) pitch, and they are going to get used to her and they are going to start hitting the ball. I’m just glad we were able to get a couple more runs at the end and find a way to get those outs before they were able to tie the game.”
Wawasee showed throughout much of the contest that it could and would swing the bats with purpose. The Lady Warriors scored its runs in bunches. An RBI single from Haylee Allen tied the game at one in the third, which was quickly followed by a ringing two-run double by Kiaundra Olson.
An inning later, Wawasee had perhaps its best offensive inning of the entire season. A hit-by-pitch and walk to open the frame chased NorthWood starter Autumn Miller, who looked every bit worn from throwing over 240 pitches in the first two NorthWood tournament wins earlier in the week. But that didn’t change Wawasee’s approach against Ashlyn Brooke, where another walk loaded the bases and a hit-by-pitch started the run of runs.
Allen singled in a run, as did Ari Garcia, Olson, Laney Gross and Casey Drake, running the score to 9-1, and after NorthWood didn’t score in the bottom of the fourth, Allen added another RBI single to make it 10-1 and the Panthers were up against it.
But to say NorthWood was going to just roll over and die isn’t what head coach Mandy DeMien has built in her program. And sure enough, Lili Lomeli drove in a run and Halle DeMien cracked a two-run double and came home on a Sydney King base knock, suddenly that lead was cut directly in half.
In what started to resemble the goings-on Tuesday night in NorthWood’s wild 13-11 win over Jimtown, Wawasee played the role of NorthWood on Friday, sneaking in a couple late runs that proved to be extremely valuable later on.
Garcia ripped a two-run double in the top of the seventh, and at 12-5, it just seemed like more ice cream on the celebration plate.
In sounds the game hadn’t heard much of from NorthWood’s side of the field, loud ringing pings off their bats began to cascade across the diamond. DeMien drove a ball into the gap for a double. King had a solid single to bring her home. After Brooke and Paige Jacobs reached on singles to lead the bases, Reagan Austrup blasted a three-run double to pull the Panthers within three at 12-9.
“When we were down that big of a margin, I said, why not us?” said DeMien. “Every team has fought back in the seventh inning. And they did it, they fought.”
Momentum had completely swung, and continued as Morgan Jenkins did Morgan Jenkins things by ripping a single to right, bringing in two more runs to pull NorthWood within a miraculous simple run. And with perhaps the fastest player in the park on the basepaths and the middle of a suddenly red hot NorthWood lineup grabbing helmets and bats, Allen began showing the signs of being a freshman rather than the seasoned stud she had been for 13.2 innings of the week.
Allen, however, dialed the right location to get Lomeli to hit a quiet fly ball to center that Worrell hauled in to send Wawasee into its first championship celebration since the 2017 season.
Allen wasn’t close to shutdown, giving up 13 hits and three walks, but had 10 strikeouts and was throwing as hard in the seventh as she was in the first, 136 pitches in all.
At the plate, she had four hits, three RBI, three runs scored and a stolen base.
“I just told myself that I needed to do this for the team, and the seniors that have worked so hard for us,” said Allen. “This is their last try, I wanted to get them a sectional championship. I wanted to do whatever I could to help, whether it was pitch or hit the ball.”
Olivia Stuck added three runs scored and Drake reached base four times.
DeMien had three doubles in the game and drove in two, King had three hits and Jenkins’ single in the seventh was her 57th hit of the season, pushing her season batting average to a final resting place of .626. NorthWood, after defeating West Noble in nine innings and Jimtown into the wee hours of Tuesday night, finish its season 9-16 overall.
Wawasee (6-21-1) isn’t the prettiest of crown wearers heading to the next round of the tournament, but wooden trophies aren’t judgmental. Certainly a more prodigious team record will be coming to Syracuse on Tuesday for the one-game regional, a 27-4 Fort Wayne Dwenger. The Saints have been incredibly consistent in scoring 11 runs in each of its three wins in the Angola sectional, beating Concordia, Angola and New Haven by a combined 33-5 scoreline. Game time is listed as 6 p.m. between the Warriors and Saints.
“I think our girls will be really excited and hopefully we can get a lot of people to come out and cheer them on,” McRobbie said of the regional. “The sky is the limit for this team right now. I am really excited for them.”