WARSAW — It wasn't easy, but Concord and Northridge emerged victorious in semifinal action Wednesday at the Warsaw Class 4A Softball Sectional.
The Minutemen blanked Warsaw, 3-0, while the Raiders edged Elkhart Memorial, 5-3.
Concord (23-4) and Northridge (21-6) will meet at 6 p.m. Friday for the sectional championship at Warsaw High School.
In the first semifinal, Minutemen pitcher Alexis Kern was effectively wild. Kern tossed a one-hitter, struck out nine, walked three and hit three batters.
"Honestly, that's Lexi," said Concord coach Dawn Austin about her starting pitcher being effectively wild. "Once in awhile it gets away from her. Then she's got to fight her way back or the defense has to help her out. It's kind of been that way all year. Sometimes it's not pretty We managed to do what we needed to do today."
Kern faced her biggest jam in the fifth inning.
Trailing 1-0, Warsaw loaded the bases with one out, as Kern hit two batters and walked another.
The Tigers would come away scoreless, as Katie Anderson was out on a fly ball to center field and the runner was doubled off of second base on a throw from centerfielder Mayla Herman to Kern to second baseman Emily Hess.
"Everybody did exactly what they were suppose to do to get us out of that situation," Austin said about that key play.
Alysa Marcin RBI single in the first inning turned out to be the lone run that Concord needed.
The Minutemen added two insurance runs in the seventh on a sacrifice fly from Madison Kelly and an RBI single from Yadi Gomez.
"That meant a ton," Austin said about the added runs. "Clearly, that makes you feel a little bit more comfortable."
The strategy used by Warsaw coach Kevin Dishman worked, as he went away from normal starting pitcher Courtney Chookie and went with three pitchers – Hudson Bollinger, Kennedy Tennant and Tauren Tackett – that the Minutemen weren't familiar with.
"The only person that we've seen is Chookie for three or four years," Austin said. "It was a great game plan because we didn't prepare for anyone but Chookie. We were expecting to see Chookie and they threw three different people at us. It takes an at-bat or two to get your timing down and make something happen."
In the other semifinal, Northridge looked to be a heavy favorite over Memorial after rolling past the Crimson Chargers, 20-1 and 18-3, during the regular season.
Instead, the Raiders had to work much harder in their third win of the year over the Crimson Chargers.
"It's championship softball," said Northridge coach Ray Caples on why his team had to escape with its third win over Memorial. "It can be explained in the same way that on Monday Goshen gave Concord a tough game and Central gave Warsaw a tough game. Today you saw Warsaw give Concord a game and Memorial give us a game.
"What we try to get our girls to understand is that when you hit the postseason it's a new season and anything goes. You can't expect what happened during the regular season to happen again during the postseason because everyone brings their best game."
Northridge seemed headed to another easy win over Memorial after jumping out to a 5-0 lead after three innings.
Allison Hostetler's two-run homer highlighted a three-run first inning for the Raiders. Teammate Meghan Bontrager added an RBI single.
Makena Knepp's single drove in the Raiders fifth run in the third.
But that would be it for Northridge, as Memorial pitcher Leeah Wade came in as a reliever and cooled off Northridge's bats. Over four inings, Wade allowed no runs, one hit, struck out five and walked four.
Wade was back on the mound just a week after going through a scary moment on the mound.
"She got hit by a line drive six days ago and was hit right in the chin," said Memorial coach Craig Sears. "Actually, she has a fracture right at the top part of her jaw. The doctor said she could pitch as long as she wore a mask. I asked before I put her in if she had any second thoughts and if she was OK. She said she was ready and wanted the ball."
Wade's pitching gave Memorial a chance to get back into the game and the Crimson Chargers made things interesting in the late innings after leaving seven runners on base – including four in scoring position – over the first four innings.
A two-run double from Shelby Buss cut Northridge's lead to 5-2 in the fifth and Memorial came very close to adding more in that inning. With runners on second and third with two outs, Hannah Goldsborough hit a deep fly ball to center field that was caught by Bontrager.
"It looked pretty good and I thought it had a chance (to be a homer)," Sears said. "Once I looked out and saw their centerfielder I knew she had it. She was eye-balling it the whole way. She's good. It's kind of funny, because (Tuesday) at practice (Goldsborough) hit her first home run ever over the fence. It was off of me, of course."
Memorial did get a homer from Buss with two outs in the seventh to slice the deficit to 5-3.
After an infield single from Morgan Kast, Goldsborough came to the plate again as the tying run. She grounded out to second to end the game.
"I couldn't be more prouder of the girls," Sears said.
CONCORD 3, WARSAW 0
Warsaw`000`000`0` - 0`1`1
Hudson Bollinger (L), Kennedy Tennant (5), Tauren Tackett (6); Alexis Kern (W, 9 K's).
Concord: Hits - Skylar Decker 2. 2B - Decker, Zoey Stender, Madison Kelly.
Records: Warsaw 8-18, Concord 23-4.
NORTHRIDGE 5, ELKHART MEMORIAL 3
Northridge`311`000`0` - 5`7`1
Memorial`000`020`1` - 3`9`3
Makena Knepp (W, 8 K's), Jenifer Robinson (5); Shelby Buss (L), Leeah Wade (3, 5 K's).
Northridge: Hits – Madison Wienert 2, Meghan Bontrager 2. HR – Allison Hostetler. RBI – Hostetler 2. SB – Bontrager 2.
Memorial: Hits – Buss 3, Morgan Kast 2. HR – Buss. 2B – Buss, Ashley Asher. RBI – Buss 3.
Records: Northridge 21-6.