SYRACUSE — The Wawasee High School softball team’s “kiddie corps” has grown up in a hurry.
Fresh off their Class 3A sectional title, coach Jared Knipper’s young Warriors (20-10) will host Leo (23-6) at 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 3, to try and add a regional title to their breakthrough season.
"This is just a great group of kids and they’re really bought into what we’ve been teaching this year," Knipper said. "We’ve really stressed to the kids that character, being a good teammate and knowing what wearing a Wawasee uniform means, is just as important to me as what happens on the field."
Wawasee has a school record for victories and is red-hot at the right time of the year.
This despite starting four freshman, including ace pitcher Amber Lemberg, who fired a one-hitter in the Warriors’ sectional title win over Lakeland.
At the start of the season, Lemberg was one of three Warrior pitchers battling to see who the ace of the staff would be. But as the season went on, the talented freshman took control in the circle and became the rock Knipper was seeking.
"Amber throws hard, but the key is how she’s learned to harness that and really improve her control," Knipper said. "Right now, she is throwing three different kinds of pitches for strikes and that makes her very tough to hit."
Other freshmen starters for the Warriors are leadoff hitter Madie Wilson, first basemen Meghan Fretz and speedster Ale Brito.
But while the freshmen are playing well, Knipper is quick to point out that a pair of juniors, shortstop Alli Ousley and catcher Paige Hlutke, have been solid veterans, while sophomore Kylee Rostochak — an All-Northern Lakes Conference selection as a freshman in 2013 — has helped key the late-season run.
"Having the talent we’ve been blessed with is both good and bad sometimes," said Knipper, whose program also features a JV squad that went 25-0 this spring. “Obviously it’s great to have kids like this that come out and work hard and are good players. But at the same time, I know it could eventually be tough to keep everyone happy. That said, I haven’t seen anything like that from this team."
Meawhile, Knipper has counted on Courtney Crabtree, the team’s lone senior, to help keep everything in perspective.
"Courtney doesn’t play all the time, but she is a very important part of this team,’’ Knipper said. ”The girls respect her and listen to her when she talks about how far the program has come in the past few years."
Knipper knows Leo will be a tough challenge and the regional is a big stage, but he remains very confident in his team.
"Leo is also young, plus they’re talented and have very good speed," Knipper said. “But I think our schedule has prepared us well for a game like this. We’ve seen Northridge and Concord twice, Fairfield is very good and we’ve battled all of them. So I don’t think our players will be in awe of Leo."