The Northwestern softball team didn’t get the results it wanted on the field while in Florida for spring break this week, but that doesn’t mean the trip was a downer.
The Warriors played doubleheaders Monday and Tuesday at the Disney World spring training complex, going 1-3 against top-flight high school competition and filled the rest of the time with fun activities.
Coach Missy Johnson, who is in her 18th season, hasn’t scheduled many out-of-state trips, but she has a bunch of three- and four-year players who have earned her trust. She figured the excursion would make a tight-knit team even closer.
“We talked about going away and with these girls — my husband and I were discussing it — they’re a great group to have. They’re more like a family,” said Johnson.
The Warriors are coming off a 27-3 breakthrough season, reaching the state tourney for the first time since legendary coach Nancy Dutton’s last season in 2000. It didn’t end well, though. They were run-ruled, 10-0, by Warren Champion in the Division III state semifinals.
“It was a great feeling to get to state, but we definitely didn’t play our game,” Johnson said. “It was a little overwhelming. We’re not used to playing in front of that many people. This year, we’re coming in with the mindset of unfinished business. We want to go back there again and try to show we deserve to go.”
The Warriors reached the D-III regional finals in 2016 and the D-II regional semifinals in 2015 and ’14. They’ve also won the Central Buckeye Conference Mad River division titles and won at least 24 games each of the last four years.
They return to D-II this season but have the firepower to compete. Senior pitcher Jenna Robbins went 19-1 with 184 strikeouts in 129.1 innings and a 1.19 ERA. The Mad River division player of the year also clubbed 13 homers with 62 RBIs and a .490 average.
She isn’t the only effective pitcher. Junior Miranda Gillman is primarily a third-baseman and batted .414 last year while being named first-team all-league, but she also went 8-1 with a 1.99 ERA. And freshman Cassidy Christian has shown she deserves some innings.
“She’s not intimidated by any means,” Johnson said. “All three pitchers are very comfortable on the mound.”
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The Warriors, who play Tuesday against Jonathan Alder, have to replace two first-team all-league selections in Maddie Current and Abby Zerkle. But they return a pair of second-team all-league picks in senior catcher Macie Crew (.414) and senior short stop Jamie Rutherford (.410) along with a special-mention honoree in junior first-basemen Bry White (.358).
Senior Ashlee Barger will play center field and junior Hannah Weymouth left field, but competition for starting spots is fierce.
“I’ve got some younger players who are putting heat on some of the starters,” Johnson said. “Honestly, I think we’re strong one through 12. And it’s great to have girls who can play multiple positions.”
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Johnson turned the spring-break trip into a mini-vacation because husband Matt and their children, Mason (12) and Miles (7), joined her in Orlando. Matt Johnson, who coaches football at Tippecanoe and girls basketball at Cedarville, works with the team in an unofficial capacity. His wife appreciates the support.
“He understands what it’s like to have 12 kids and to make sure everyone is where they’re supposed to be. He’s an extra pair of eyes to help us out,” she said.
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