After a string of lopsided tournament wins, it was clear to Northwestern coach Missy Johnson in the early innings of a Division III regional final on Saturday at Wright State that her team would have to hit well to earn a spot in the state semifinals.
After the Warriors got through the lineup once, they started hitting and didn’t stop until they secured a victory.
Northwestern scored four runs in the sixth to pull away from Columbus Bishop Ready and claim a regional title with a 10-6 win. It puts the Warriors in a state semifinal against Warren Champion at 12:30 p.m. on Friday at Firestone Stadium in Akron.
It’s the first state berth for Northwestern since 2000.
Northwestern (27-2) was clinging to a 6-5 lead in the sixth before Macie Crew put the game away with a three-run home run. After Rachel Martin reached on a fielding error and Bry White hit a single to left, Crew hit a fly ball that landed several feet behind the fence in left center to give the Warriors a four-run lead. Miranda Gillman batted in another run later in the inning on a single to center to put the Warriors ahead 10-5.
“We practiced all week hitting that inside pitch that (Ready pitcher Skylar Lafferty) was throwing, and that’s what it was,” Crew said of her home run. “I adjusted myself in the batter’s box a little bit right before that one.”
Ready loaded the bases with one out in the seventh and then scored on a sacrifice fly. Any further damage was prevented when Ready’s Hannah Bryan grounded out to Northwestern shortstop Jamie Rutherford.
“We were trying to make it more stressful there than it needed to be,” Johnson said of the seventh. “But after those first few hits, they calmed down and played stellar defense.”
The Silver Knights had 13 hits against Northwestern pitcher Jenna Robbins, who hadn’t given up a run in the last two tournament games. After Ready got two hits in the first inning, Johnson said she thought it would be a hitter’s game.
“They’re one of the few teams that have hit Jenna like that this season,” Johnson said. “They’re an excellent offensive team and disciplined, but she fought through it and the girls played well behind her. …We’ve been working more on situational defensive plays in practice, and it definitely paid off today.”
Northwestern had one hit in the first two innings, but a triple by Rachel Martin in the third got the Warriors going. Martin later scored in the inning, and the Warriors added two runs in the fourth to take a 3-0 lead.
“Usually that’s how it is, scoreless through the first few innings” Crew said. “Once we see the pitcher once, we get going.”
This will be Northwestern’s eighth overall trip to state. The Warriors have finished as state runner-up three times (1978, 1989, 1991) but has never won a state title.