Northwestern is one win away from the school’s first softball region title after beating Clover 5-2 Thursday night.
The fourth-ranked Trojans (14-0, 11-0 in Region 3-AAAA) outhit the Blue Eagles 5-2, and made one less error (3-2) to stay undefeated.
“A good team takes advantage of mistakes, and Clover doesn’t make many but we were able to take advantage of a couple,” said Northwestern coach Bryan Smith, adding, “We were able to overcome a couple of our own.”
Northwestern ace Kori Wancheck limited the Blue Eagles to two runs on two hits and struck out six, her first game of the season with less than 10 strikeouts.
“Clover is the best hitting team we’ve played,” said Smith. “We knew it wasn’t gonna be just strike them all out and go sit down. We knew we would have to make some plays behind our defense.”
It was a frustrating loss for the Blue Eagles, who had won the last several region titles. They huddled beyond the left field fence for about 20 minutes after the game was over. Coach Shea Hall said she had the hitters she wanted at the plate in certain situations but they couldn’t deliver.
“We know we have the talent; we’re not playing well right now,” she said.
Hall’s chat with her team wasn’t all salt and vinegar. A team with just two active seniors on the roster needed a little encouragement too.
“We lost a chance at a region championship but this season is not doomed,” said Hall. “We still have a good chance to pick up some pieces, but right now, we’re just not making the plays. Northwestern made the plays and we did not. I wasn’t trying to hurt anybody’s feelings.”
Hall would have been thrilled with her team’s opening frame. Wancheck struck out the first nine Clover batters in the two teams’ first meeting, a 4-3 Trojan win last Saturday. But the visiting Blue Eagles broke through early on Thursday, Michelle Aragon scoring in the first inning after a Northwestern throwing error.
The home team tied the score at 1-1 in the bottom half of the first. Wancheck singled and Rachel Marion brought her in, roping a double deep into the left field corner.
Hall’s team reclaimed the lead in the fourth inning. Brooke Rhinehart walked, stole second, and then reached third base after the Trojans dropped Marisa Harkey’s shot to center field. With runners on second and third and no outs, Clover mustered only a single run, Elizabeth Edmunds’ RBI sacrifice fly that made it 2-1 to the Blue Eagles.
It wasn’t until the bottom of the fifth that the Trojans snatched back the lead for good. Delia Fields led off the inning by reaching first after a throwing error and Wancheck’s RBI single scored her to tie the game 2-2. Marion then reached on a fielder’s choice and moved over to second when Cassie Wancheck drew a walk.
In one of those moments that Hall talked about, Meredith Cudd came through for the Trojans, looping a shot into the outfield that scored Marion’s pinch-runner, Emma Mondo. Clover could have limited the damage, but a wild throw home allowed Cassie Wancheck to score as well, and Northwestern’s lead suddenly doubled to 4-2.
A mix-up in the bottom of the sixth gave Smith’s team the insurance run it needed with Wancheck pitching. Edmunds and the first baseman got off kilter, allowing Daina Chase to safely sneak onto the bag. Brooke Foster, who walked to lead off the inning, scored during the hullabaloo to make it 5-2.
In the top of the seventh, Wancheck shut the door striking out two, and getting the final out through a pop fly, putting the Trojans a game closer to a historic region championship. While the Trojans smiled and hugged in victory, Clover plotted ways to get hot headed into the postseason.
“I’ve been using all of my NCAA analogies,” Hall said with a grin. “UConn and Kentucky; who would have ever thought?”
Northwestern 5, Clover 2
WP- Kori Wancheck; LP- Elizabeth Edmunds. Clover- Sydney Burrell 1-2; Michelle Aragon 1-2. Northwestern- Kori Wancheck 2-4, RBI; Rachel Marion 1-3, 2B, RBI; Meredith Cudd 1-3, RBI.
Records: Northwestern 14-0, 11-0; Clover 13-4, 9-2.