Warriors earned an 11-2 district title win over Wilmington on Friday.
SPRINGFIELD — Northwestern wanted to make a tournament run last season. But Kenton Ridge spoiled the Warriors’ postseason hopes in a 3-2 sectional final win. The Cougars came back in late innings to earn the win, something they would do a couple of times in their run to the 2013 Division II state championship game.
Northwestern didn’t linger on the loss to the state runner-up Cougars too long.
“It was reassuring to us to know that the team that beat us kept winning and that we could have beat them,” senior first baseman Maddie Crew said in an interview on Thursday. “Knowing that we could have won that game, and to see them keep winning, was encouraging for us.”
The encouragement gave the Warriors a belief that they, too, could make it to the state finals.
“Because we lost to them and they made it, it was okay for us to lose, because they made it (to the state) and it was so exciting for us to watch,” senior center fielder Kristin Pencil said. “It would be cool if that was us this season, and if they were watching us.”
The Warriors are only two games away. They took another step toward the state semifinals on Friday night with an 11-2 win over Wilmington in a district final game at West Carrollton. Wilmington scored two runs in the top of the first, but Northwestern answered with six runs in the bottom of the inning and never looked back.
Northwestern will play either Granville or Jonathan Alder in a regional semifinal game at Mason High School next Thursday. Granville lost to Kenton Ridge in a state semifinal game last season.
“We’re really excited,” Pencil said. “We want to make it, and I think we can.”
Northwestern (26-3) has already outlasted Kenton Ridge, who lost 2-0 to Shawnee in a sectional final last Tuesday. Shawnee and Northwestern could potentially meet again in a regional final.
“But we’ve both got a couple of games to win before we can think about that,” Northwestern head coach Missy Johnson said.
Northwestern beat Greenville 6-2 in a sectional final game last Tuesday at Tecumseh. It was the first loss in a sectional tournament game for the Green Wave over a decade. Head coach Jarrod Newland, son of former South head coach Greg Newland, led Greenville to a 30-0 record as head coach in sectional games before Northwestern’s win.
“I just think we were really ready, and I don’t think they expected us to come in with that mentality,” senior pitcher Jensen Kleis said. “That win has fired us up.”
Six seniors lead Northwestern’s squad. The group has played together since they started little league ten years ago. Johnson said the group is one of the best she’s ever coached.
“I think us six seniors, we have a lot of experience and have a lot of returning players,” senior catcher Bre Oakes said. “We have sound girls on our team that are well-rounded and can hit the ball well.”
Crew, a senior first baseman, leads the team with a .607 on-base percentage. Crew has 30 RBIs and leads the team with 28 stolen bases.
“I’ve grew up with Maddie since we were little,” Oakes said of Crew. “I can always count on Maddie to get the team going as our leadoff hitter and she can always come back and tell us how the pitching is and always spark us.”
Crew has been a big part in helping Northwestern improve. The Warriors finished 20-9 a year ago and had a team batting average of .362. Crew had a .415 batting average last season.
So far this season, Northwestern has a team batting average of .427, and Crew has boosted her batting average to .562.
“My brother and sister both play, and in our backyard we’re always hitting,” Crew said. “Three or four times a week we’re hitting. I think that played a big part in why my batting average jumped.”
Kristin Pencil, a center fielder, is second on the team with a .495 batting average. Pitcher Brittany Hart has a .484 batting average, Jensen Kleis has a .438 average, Oakes has a .412 average, and Graysan Braun has a .379 average.
Freshman Maddie Current is fourth on the team with a .467 batting average.
Hart and Braun split time in the circle. Hart has a 1.79 ERA through 105 innings with 126 strikeouts, while Braun has a 1.88 ERA through 82 innings with 51 strikeouts.
“Brit can throw a lot of junk,” Pencil said of Hart. “She’s very consistent. The two of them on the same team is great because they both bring two different things to the table, and it works.”
The Warriors, who won the CBC Mad River Division title, can win with long ball or small ball. Northwestern has hit 63 doubles, 17 triples, and 13 home runs. Northwestern led the CBC this season with 105 stolen bases.
“We can score in different ways, and I think that makes us tough,” Crew said. “We like stealing bases. Sixty feet makes a huge difference when you’re trying to score, and we’ll take as many stolen bases as we can get.”
Northwestern will play in a regional semifinal next Thursday at 5 p.m. at Mason. Granville and Alder play in a district final on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Pickerington Central.
If the Warriors win on Thursday, they will advance to a regional final next Saturday. If Shawnee wins its district final tomorrow and a regional semifinal on Wednesday, the two teams will play again. Northwestern beat Shawnee 5-4 in a CBC crossover game on May 1.
Kleis said the Warriors are focused on making it to the state finals, regardless of who they have to play.
“We’re realizing as seniors this is our last shot at it, so we better make it good,” Kleis said.