In a near repeat of the two regular season meetings, the No. 2 ranked Northridge Raiders and the unranked Concord Minutemen locked up in a close championship contest of the Class 4A high school girls softball sectional Friday night at Warsaw.
The contest featured good pitching and great defense.
The Raiders were leading 1-0 until the team added four runs in the bottom of the fifth on the way to a 5-0 victory for the program’s 15th sectional championship.
“The later it goes in the game, the more looks we have had at the pitcher and the chances are pretty decent we are going to make contact,” Northridge coach Bo O’Dell said. “The girls enjoy that. They get dialed in on where the pitch is going and where they need to be.”
Northridge (25-1) will host the winner of the South Bend Clay-South Bend Riley game Tuesday in a one-game regional. According to Northridge assistant athletic director Anne Griffith gates will open at 4:45 p.m. and the first pitch is slated for 5:45. Admission per the IHSAA is $6.
During the NLC season, Northridge posted 4-1 and 3-0 wins over Concord.
Northridge was the defending sectional champion.
“This is a tough sectional,’ O’Dell said. “It is hard to beat a team three times in a season. But the girls were not going to get beat.”
What turned out to be the winning run was one of the manufactured variety. Junior Hannah Kistler drew a base on balls and junior Haley Nixon sacrificed her to second. Kistler scored when junior designated hitter Grace Grevengoed slapped a single to right center.
“All pitchers know that leadoff walks or letting any leadoff hitter get on is trouble, especially against a good team like Northridge,” Concord coach Dawn Austin said.
When the Raiders added their four runs in the fifth they had four singles. A couple of the safeties were hard-hit balls that either deflected off a Concord player’s glove or off the player themselves.
“Northridge forces you to make plays,” Austin said. “You have to come up with those kinds of plays if you are going to have a chance against them.”
Junior Brianne O’Dell singled home two runs in the Raider fifth. Kistler and junior Jaymee Bowers both chipped in with run-scoring singles.
According to coach O’Dell the Northridge team’s confidence never faded when they were leading 1-0.
“All of these girls have played enough softball to still be confident in that situation,” he said. “Most of them have probably have a 1,000 games under the belt.
“We don’t get too high and we don’t get too low. Some people don’t like the fact the we don’t do more, but I would rather stay on a more even keel.”
Nixon pitched another one of her gems to improve her record to a sparkling 24-1. She allowed six hits while striking out six and walking none.
“Haley is so solid,” senior Haley Schrock said. “It’s hard to be nervous when she is out there pitching.
“Our motto is we want to score one run each inning. We figure once we get to a 3-0 lead that is enough for Haley (Nixon) to get the job done.”
Second baseman O’Dell echoed Schrock’s thoughts.
“We have all the confidence in each other,” she said. “We know with Haley (Nixon) pitching we need to make the plays.”
The Raider defense didn’t make an error in the contest and neither did Concord.
“We go all out everyday in practice and cheer each other on,” Brianne O’Dell said.
“This is the hardest working team I have ever been involved with,” Schrock said.
Concord had three good scoring opportunities. They had a runner on second with two outs in the fourth before Nixon induced an inning ending ground out.
They had runners on first and second with two out in the sixth only to have Nixon to record the third out on a strikeout and a runner on third in the seventh with two outs before Nixon got the batter to pop up in foul territory to Kistler for the final out.
“This feels great,” Schrock said. “Concord is an improved team and we knew this would be a close game. We knew we had to play our best.
“We are taking this one game at a time. We don’t want to come up short of making it back to semistate.”
Concord finishes 17-9 in Austin’s first season.
“It can be difficult for a team making the transition to a new coach,” she said. “The seniors did a good job of making it easier. They bought into what I wanted and helped get the message to the rest of the team.”
Concord 000 000 0 — 0-6-0
Northridge 010 040 x — 5-7-0
Pitching: (Northridge) Haley Nixon (W, 24-1) six strikeouts and no walks. (Concord) Rae Ann Miller (L, 9-6) two strikeouts and three walks. Jenny Miller one strikeout and no walks.
Hitting: (Northridge) Madison Schrock two singles, one run; Brianne O’Dell single, two RBI; Hannah Kistler single, RBI, run; Grace Grevengoed single, RBI, run; Bailey O’Dell single, run; Jaymee Bowers single, run. (Concord) Leslie Crawford two singles, McKenzie Loge single, Jenny Miller single, Sarah Emerson single, Kennadie Lopez single.