WARSAW — Northridge junior Rachael Kelley was feeling good on the bus ride down to Warsaw Friday night. The Raiders were wearing these hoodies that resembled the ones boxers wear when walking to the ring for a fight. Kelley even said she felt like Rocky.
Up at the front of the bus, Northridge assistant coach Derek Weatherholt heard Kelley say that. He then challenged the team to look at its Class 4A, Sectional 4 softball championship game against Concord as a “seven-round boxing match, and we want to win each round,” according to Northridge head coach Ray Caples.
Well, the Raiders only needed five rounds Friday as they knocked out Concord, 13-0, in five innings to win the sectional championship.
“We were having a lot of fun on the bus. It was just a great mood coming in … we wanted to come out fighting,” Kelley said.
“You could hear me yell (every inning), ‘Hold to zero.’ We wanted to win every inning,” Caples added.
Northridge worked some body shots in on the Minutemen in the first inning, using small ball as its primary weapon. After Madison Wienert reached second base on a single and a fielding error, pitcher Jenifer Robinson laid a bunt down the first base line. The Concord first baseman fielded it cleanly, but overthrew the ball to the second baseman covering first. This allowed Wienert to score to make it 1-0.
On the next at bat, Meghan Bontrager bunted. Bontrager’s speed allowed her to reach first base safely with a single. An errant Concord throw, however, allowed Robinson and Bontrager to advance a base. The ensuing throw to try and get Robinson out at third went out of play, allowing both runners to advance another base. Robinson scored to make it 2-0.
“The wheels just fell off. We made a couple of silly mistakes and then made a throw or two that didn’t make any sense,” Concord coach Dawn Austin said.
After an Ashley Beckler walk, Abigail Hostetler hit a sacrifice fly, scoring Bontrager. Five batters into the game, and the Raiders had a three-run advantage.
“We have a very fast team. We’re very accurate with getting the bunt down, so we catered our offense to fit the skills set we have,” Caples said. “And, because we’re a fast team, we take every extra base that we can.”
Northridge delivered the haymaker in the third inning. It started with an Ashley Beckler solo home run, making it 4-0 Raiders. The next two Northridge batters recorded outs, though, and it appeared the Minutemen were going to get out of the inning relatively unscathed.
That would not be the case, however, as the next nine Northridge batters reached base. The offensive onslaught was highlighted by a two-run home run from Kelley and a three-run blast from Robinson. This made it 9-0 Northridge.
“My first thought was, ‘Oh, goodness. I shouldn’t have swung at that pitch because I’ve been told the whole season to not swing at the high ones.’ But I couldn’t help myself,” Kelley said of her two-run homer. “If you’re going to swing, you’ve got to make it worth it.”
RBI base hits from Beckler — her second of the inning — and Makena Knepp ended the Northridge scoring in the third. The Raiders tallied nine runs on seven hits in the frame.
“Today, they were good hitters and they executed when they needed to,” Caples said. “I mean, three home runs …. great long balls. None of them were a surprise to me.”
“We made some defensive mistakes, but in the past our bats have been able to get us out of it. Obviously, when you get down that much, it makes a difference,” Austin added. “They’re a good hitting team and they’re going to take advantage of it.”
Northridge added its final run in the fourth on an RBI groundout from Robinson.
It was a bitter end to the season for Concord. They were the Northern Lakes Conference champions, going 23-5. They won 25 games a season ago, making this group of Minutemen seniors the most successful in program history. Austin was emotional talking about her eight seniors following the game.
“It’s just tough when you have eight seniors that have put everything on the line. It’s just a crappy way to go out,” Austin said. “They’ve been the two most successful teams Concord has seen. They had record wins last season and I would suspect, had we not lost a couple games to rain, we’d be in a very similar situation (this year).
“They’ve earned the respect from within the conference and earned the respect from around the region, and that’s all you can ask from a group that put a lot of heart and soul into it.”
Northridge will host the regional game Tuesday at 6 p.m. against either Penn of Mishawaka. The Kingsmen and Cavemen play in their sectional championship game on Saturday at noon.
“It means a lot. It is proof of everything we’ve said from the beginning of the year. We told the girls early on that we felt like we had the team that was to beat in this (sectional),” Caples said.
Austin Hough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-533-2151, ext. 325. Follow Austin on Twitter @AustinHoughTGN