LAGRANGE — The Lakeland softball team was not about to let history repeat itself.
In the Class 3A, Sectional 21 championship game against Fairfield a year ago, the Lakers were upset by the Falcons, 6-2, in Goshen. Fast forward to Thursday, where the same two teams met for another sectional crown — this time, on Lakeland’s home field.
The Lakers scored the same amount of runs this year that they did last year, but it proved to be enough in a 2-1 victory over Fairfield. It’s Lakeland’s first sectional championship since 2012.
“Coming in to today, I felt like everyone was focused and locked-in. Having that chip on our shoulder from the past year of them beating us in the sectional championship, especially for the seniors,” Lakeland coach Lauren Harris said. “So, to get this today was huge.”
One swing of the bat proved to be the difference for the Lakers. With a runner on and two outs, sophomore Keirstin Roose smacked a two-run home run over the center field fence, giving Lakeland a 2-0 advantage in the top of the third. Lakeland was the designated away team despite the game being played in LaGrange.
“I was just focusing on a mistake that she could make, and she made it. She pitched it over the plate,” Roose said. “It was a changeup, and usually I don’t hit changeups. But I felt it was good enough to hit.”
Harris enjoyed going ahead early, but felt her team may need more than two runs at the time.
“It didn’t feel like enough. Against a team that can put the ball in play … (Fairfield) coach (John) Skibbe does a great job of moving the runners around the base,” Harris said. “I didn’t feel comfortable with two. I don’t think (Fairfield) did, either.”
Fairfield threatened to score in the bottom of the fourth. The Falcons had runners on second and third with one out following a double from Kayla Miller. Lakeland senior Elise Edwards got the next two Fairfield batters out, though, stopping the Fairfield rally.
“I still felt like we were in a good spot, down 2-0. We had scored some runs off of (Edwards) earlier in the season,” Skibbe said. “Our hitting had started to come around a little bit and it was early.”
The closest Fairfield got to tying the game was in the sixth. Bobbie Freese walked to start the inning, bringing the tying run, Sarah Shank, to the plate. Shank hit a sharp ground ball, but it went right to Laker second baseman Bailey Hartsough, who tagged out Freese and threw to first for the double play.
On the next at-bat, Chloe Dell launched a solo home run to center field, cutting the Falcon deficit in half. Hartsough’s double play became even more crucial for Lakeland.
Skibbe didn’t want to play the “what if” game afterwards.
“You could second-guess all night, but they’re not going to pitch (Dell) the same way if we have a runner on second,” Skibbe said. “You want to do that. You want to look back and say, ‘Oh, if we had scored a run on that double’ … you just have to play it as it is.”
Fairfield went down in order in the seventh, which included two strikeouts from Edwards. The senior struck out five batters in the game, allowing just four hits and the one run.
“I think, being a senior, it’s kind of setting in that this is the final stretch. We’ve talked a lot about, with all the girls, about leaving everything on the field … I think that’s what (Edwards) has been doing,” Harris said. “Her last two games have been phenomenal. Probably the best she’s had all year, and maybe in her career.”
“We’re all so proud of (Edwards). She really pulled through,” Roose added. “She trusted us behind her, and she knew she could do it.”
Shank also pitched a gem for the Falcons. She only had two strikeouts, but pitched out of some jams in the second and fifth innings to keep Fairfield in the game.
“(Shank)’s been sick all week with a cold, but it didn’t affect her at all. This is probably the seventh game we’ve lost this year by one run, so she was always keeping us in the game,” Skibbe said.
Lakeland (15-7) will play Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger (17-11) in the regional Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Bishop Dwenger. The Lakers didn’t play the Saints in the regular season.
“I haven’t been able to see Dwenger play. They played a couple of teams we played, so we’ll do some research on that,” Harris said. “They’re going to be a great team. I think if we come out and we play our game instead of the team or the name on the chest, we’ll be a far better team that we’ll ever be.”
Austin Hough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-533-2151, ext. 325. Follow Austin on Twitter @AustinHoughTGN