WARSAW — In terms of the results that have roughly mirrored a year ago so far, Northridge softball has made it look as easy as poking the resume button this spring.
But there’s nothing easy about excellence, and it’s not even really the same team as a year ago that repeated as Class 4A sectional champion with a 5-0 shutout over Concord in the title game Friday, May 24, at Warsaw.
“We started out a little rough this year, and we had to learn how to be all together again,” Haley Nixon said after firing her second shutout in three days. “We lost some players from last year who were very good, very unique, but after the first practice, we were family. You have to play like family, like sisters, and it’s great when you have that.”
“I’m very proud of these girls,” winning coach Bo O’Dell said. “We lost Brit (Wingard) and Caity (Pixley) and Conner (Crist), and whenever you’ve lost a Division I player, another college player and your starting catcher, and to come back and do it again, and be as sound as they’re playing right now, it’s a welcome sight.”
The Raiders (25-1), winners of 23 straight games, will seek a second straight regional title when they host Saturday’s South Bend Riley (19-5)/South Bend Clay (15-11) winner in a 5:45 p.m. contest on Tuesday, May 28.
The Minutemen stayed close to Northridge through the first four innings of the sectional final, trailing 1-0 thanks to Grace Grevengoed’s RBI single in the second, but the Raiders erupted for four more runs in the fifth to pull away.
Freshman pinch-hitter Kylee Lantz singled in a run with one out from the No. 9 spot.
After a walk and single loaded the bases, Brianne O’Dell greeted reliever Jenny Miller by lining a two-run single that ricocheted off the pitcher’s leg into left field. Then with two out, Hannah Kistler lined a single off the third baseman for another run.
“It was kind of like the Central game,” lead-off hitter Madison Schrock said, referring to the Raiders’ 7-0 semifinal win after going 2-for-2 with a walk in the championship. “We were able to be patient and see some pitches, and then bust it open later when we got used to the pitcher.”
“I just wanted to hit ball hard and run as fast as I could,” Brianne O’Dell said of her two-run shot. “I’m not really thinking anything there. You don’t want to overthink it.”
“If we make them, they’re great plays,” Concord coach Dawn Austin said of a trio of Raider hits in the four-run frame that each deflected off defenders. “They’re legit hits, but against a team like Northridge, you gotta come up with those to have a chance. And you can’t start the inning with walks (as happened in both innings that the Raiders scored). You do that, that’s the kind of team that’s going to hurt you big time.”
On the flip side, Nixon walked nobody while striking out six.
Meanwhile, the Northridge defense completed a three-game errorless march through the sectional.
“I think we’re all confident in each other that if the ball’s hit to us, we’re going to make the plays,” Brianne O’Dell said. “It’s fun to be able to know we have (Nixon’s) back as much as she has ours.”
Nixon, facing Concord for the third time this season, made enough tweaks to keep the Minutemen sufficiently off balance. She allowed one run in 21 innings against them this season.
“You can’t do the same exact things because it is the third time,” Nixon said. “I thought I pitched pretty well, but I was off on a couple pitches, especially that last inning, and they were hit pretty far.”
The Minutemen — who started four sophomores, a junior and a freshman, along with four seniors — closed 17-9 in their first season under Austin.
“It’s difficult for a team to make a transition from one coach to another,” Austin said, “and they did a really good job of that. It’s tough for the seniors, but ours did a good job of buying into my philosophy, and helped take the team in the direction we wanted to go. They really did gel as a unit.”
Warsaw Sectional Championship
Northridge 5, Concord 0
Concord 000 000 0 — 0 6 0
Northridge 010 040 x — 5 7 0
Rae Ann Miller (L, 10-6), Jenny Miller (5) and Taylor Nelson; Haley Nixon (W, 24-1; 6 strikeouts, 0 walks).
Concord: Hits — Leslie Crawford 2.
Northridge: Hits — Madison Schrock 2. RBI — Brianne O’Dell 2.
Records: Northridge 25-1, Concord 17-9.
Next: Saturday’s SB Clay/SB Riley winner at Northridge on Tuesday, May 28, 5:45 p.m., in 4A regional championship.