MISHAWAKA — Penn coach Beth Zachary thought about quickly hooking pitcher Danielle Watson in the first inning, but she didn’t think about it too seriously, and before long, Watson was rewarding that hesitation with a seriously overwhelming performance.
The freshman fired her second consecutive postseason no-hitter as the Kingsmen beat Concord 11-1 in a Class 4A regional softball championship Tuesday, June 3, at Penn.
The Minutemen had their lone run by just one out into the game thanks to a two-base throwing error by Watson, a stolen base by McKenzie Loge and a Watson wild pitch.
But the No. 3-ranked Kingsmen (26-4) dominated the rest of the evening on their way to advancing to Saturday’s West Lafayette Harrison Semistate.
“Of course we thought about it,” Zachary said of yanking Watson in light of the freshman’s shaky start, “but not much. You know what, we have confidence in her, and we were looking to see what our offense was going to do before making any decisions like that. You get to (postseason), it’s not about being perfect every moment, but about handling the ups and downs and showing the heart and competitiveness we’re trying to breed here at Penn.”
The offense flashed its firepower quickly enough, erupting for seven second-inning runs on seven hits. Key blows included a run-scoring double by Dri Tashijan to start the scoring parade and a two-run triple by Makenzie Joecken.
“With this team, hitting is definitely contagious,” said Joecken after six straight Penn hitters reached base at one point, five of them by hit. “We like to feed off each other, and usually, when someone gets a hit, a couple more follow.”
The Kingsmen, who won just their second regional in the last 15 years (the other coming in 2011), piled up 13 hits, including three each by Maddy Newman, Alyssa Griman and Katie Quinlan.
Watson, the flex player who was batting for the first time in the game, ended the contest by virtue of the 10-run rule with her two-run single in the sixth inning.
It was in the circle, though, that she was particularly lethal. After her throwing error, two wild pitches and a walk in the first, she settled down, striking out 12 and walking just one more.
“I just knew my defense was going to support me, and everybody makes mistakes,” Watson said. “I just knew once we got past the first inning, everybody was going to do their job and I was going to do mine.”
“As everyone knows, (softball’s) a lot about the pitchers,” Concord coach Dawn Austin said. “Theirs threw pretty hard, even though it shouldn’t have been anything we weren’t expecting, and ours (junior starter RaeAnn Miller) put a few too many on, couldn’t find the zone. Hopefully she learns from it. It’s a bitter pill for all of us to swallow, but Penn is so athletic, so quick and so strong. Against a quality team like that, you’re going to have to play real solid to beat them.”
The Minutemen, coming off the program’s first sectional title in 27 years last week, closed at 21-9, but with a surging second half to the season that included a pair of wins over Northridge.
Just four seniors graduate, albeit all of them starters in Jenny Miller, Sabrina Scherer, Olivia Hess and Tori Braddock.
“We kind of had a tough beginning, but absolutely, we made a change or two and got into a flow,” Austin said. “Hopefully, moving forward, our players understand that this needs to be the expectation and not a surprise to anybody.”
Class 4A Regional
Penn 11, Concord 1
Concord 100 000 — 1 0 0
Penn 072 002 — 11 13 1
RaeAmn Miller (L, 15-7), Kiley Austin (3) and Sabrina Scherer; Danielle Watson (W, 8-2; 12 strikeouts).
Concord: Run — McKenzie Loge. SB — Loge.
Penn: Hits — Maddy Newman 3, Alyssa Griman 3, Katie Quinlan 3. 3B — Mackenzie Joecken. 2B — Dri Tashijan. RBI — Joecken 3, Newman 2, Watson 2. Runs — Halle Hixenbaugh 2, Melissa Wilson 2, Quinlan 2
Records: Penn 26-4, Concord 21-9.
Next: No. 3 Penn vs. Hamilton Southeastern (21-10) in opening West Lafayette Harrison Semistate semifinal Saturday, June 7, 11 a.m., followed by No. 1 Crown Point (29-0) vs. Huntington North (23-5) in second semifinal; championship at 7 p.m.