CLOVER — Northwestern jumped out to an early lead and held on for an important 4-3 Region 3-AAAA softball victory over Clover Saturday in front of an energetic crowd at the Clover High School diamond.
The game matched two teams unbeaten in region play and, with the win, the Trojans sit atop the standings with a perfect 9-0 record (12-0 overall) while the Blue Eagles dropped to 6-1 in the region and 11-3 overall.
The Trojans struck first in the top of the opening frame against Blue Eagle hurler Elizabeth Edmunds. Daina Chase singled sharply to center field but was erased on a force out at second. Courtesy runner Delia Fields moved from first to second on a wild pitch. After Rachel Marion drew a walk, Cassie Wancheck was retired on a high chopper to the pitcher but the runners advanced to second and third respectively.
Meredith Cudd then put her team on the board 1-0 with a single to left field scoring Fields. Edmunds worked out of further trouble by registering a strikeout with runners on second and third.
In the top of the third, Chase doubled down the left-field line and came around to score after a single by Kori Wancheck to make it 2-0. Kori Wancheck slid in at second after the throw to the plate. Marion followed with a long fly that was misplayed in right field that allowed courtesy runner Fields to score with Marion ending up on third and increasing the Trojan margin to 3-0.
Cassie Wancheck followed with a chopper to second that she beat out to first allowing Marion to score and give the visitors a 4-0 advantage. Edmunds allowed no further damage.
Staked to a 4-0 lead, it appeared that would be more than enough for Kori Wancheck as the junior struck out the first nine batters she faced. But the Blue Eagles were not going away quietly.
Brittany Rhinehardt singled sharply to left field to lead off the bottom of the fourth for Clover’s first base runner of the game and advanced to second when the ball was misplayed. Brittany Rhinehardt moved over to third following a bunt by Brooke Rhinehardt. Blake Wallert then laced a double to right-center to put her team on the board.
Marisa Harkey plated Brooke Rhinehardt with an infield hit to cut the Northwestern lead to 4-2. After a groundout, Edmunds was hit by a pitch to put runners at the corners. A bunt single by Hannah Curtis scored Harkey to make the score 4-3, but Wancheck fanned Morgan Graves to quell the Clover rally. Wancheck finished the game by recording 12 strikeouts.
The Trojans threatened in the top of the fifth by putting two runners aboard but could not score. The Blue Eagles countered with a pair of runners in scoring position in the bottom of the sixth but failed to tally. That set the stage for a exciting finish in the bottom of the seventh.
Brittany Rhinehardt reached base on a one-out error. She was forced at second after a grounder by Brooke Rhinehardt. Wallert followed with a clutch single to right field moving Rhinehardt to third. With most of the crowd on its feet, Kori Wancheck induced Harkey to pop out to second to end the game.
“They (Clover) have been the team to beat. To get to the top we know we gotta knock them off,” Northwestern head coach Bryan Smith said. “We had to make plays on defense to overcome our mistakes. This puts us in the driver’s seat.”
Clover head coach Shea Hall lamented her team’s mistakes.
“We had too many defensive breakdowns. You can’t spot them (Northwestern) four runs. We had what we wanted at the end but we just came up on the short end of the stick. We still have a shot at our goal. Hats off to Northwestern.”
Both teams will not have to wait very long to lock horns again as a rematch is slated for this Thursday Northwestern.
Kori Wancheck and Rachel Marion; Elizabeth Edmunds and Brooke Rhinehardt. WP- Kori Wancheck. LP- Elizabeth Edmunds. 2b- Daina Chase (N), Brooke Foster (N), Blake Wallert (C).
Leading hitters: Northwestern - Daina Chase 3-4, Meredith Cudd 1-3, Kori Wancheck 1-1, Cassie Wancheck 1-2, Brooke Foster 1-3. Clover- Blake Wallert 2-4, Marisa Harkey 2-4, Brittany Rhinehardt 1-3, Hannah Curtis 1-3, Elizabeth Edmunds 1-2.