ELKHART — A year ago, most of the Concord roster wanted nothing to do with the Northern Lakes Conference softball powerhouse.
In three meetings against Northridge in 2013, the Minutemen managed to score just one total run. The Raiders won all three games, including a 5-0 sectional championship victory.
“There were times where our kids didn’t want to step in the box,” Concord coach Dawn Austin said.
But strange things can happen in a year’s time.
Things like Concord stunning Northridge in a 3-1 win May 12.
Minutemen pitcher RaeAnn Miller recorded eight strikeouts en route to handing the Raiders their second — and final — loss of the season.
Concord (20-8) and Northridge (25-2) will meet again in the 4A Elkhart Central softball sectional championship at 6 p.m. Friday, May 30.
Regular-season successes have little significance in the tournament, but Austin thinks getting over that hump impacted her team’s mentality.
“If we hadn’t won, I think their perspective would be different going into it,” Austin said. “They want to beat the best and Northridge has proven that in the past couple of years.”
There’s no extensive scouting report for Friday’s game. This will be the sixth time in two years that the teams play each other. They know what to expect from each other. They know their strengths and weaknesses.
“Everybody thinks sectional time has to be pretty or something,” Northridge coach Bo O’Dell said after a 3-1 semifinal win over Elkhart Central Wednesday. “You just got to win. You just got to get to the next game. Our next game happens to be against Concord.”
Friday’s championship hinges largely on the performances of Miller and Northridge’s All-State candidate pitcher Haley Nixon.
Miller’s play against Warsaw in the semifinal was erratic, as the junior twirled 12 strikeouts, eight walks and three wild pitches in the 8-1 win.
Nixon tossed a two-hitter and five strikeouts against Central, including back-to-back strikeouts at the top of the seventh inning to end the Blazers’ season. Nixon is 23-2 from the mound this year.
Though the sectional champion won’t be decided until Friday night, Austin already has a pretty good idea of how the game will play out. The winner will be the one who makes the least amount of mistakes.
“Whoever kind of blinks first,” she said. “You put a runner in scoring position and make an error — that, to me, can be the game. You let Northridge score four or five runs, it's going to be tough to get into a position to come back and score that many.
“You have to stay even with them and hope the ball kind of bounces in your favor.”