Softball: Northwestern future bright despite tough ending

Northwestern senior Rachel Martin watches a pitch during a Division III state semifinal against Warren Champion on Friday at Firestone Stadium in Akron. Martin is one of three seniors the Warriors will lose to graduation. BRYANT BILLING / CONTRIBUTED
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Northwestern senior Rachel Martin watches a pitch during a Division III state semifinal against Warren Champion on Friday at Firestone Stadium in Akron. Martin is one of three seniors the Warriors will lose to graduation. BRYANT BILLING / CONTRIBUTED

Northwestern reached the regionals each of the last three years but didn’t advance to the state tournament. The Warriors finally broke through this season and won a regional championship, which coach Missy Johnson said is the result of a lot of hard work in practice and concentration in games.

After a run-rule loss to Warren Champion in a Division III state semifinal Friday, the Warriors will try to make similar improvements to get back to the state level and win a championship next season.

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Northwestern lost 10-0 in five innings at Firestone Stadium. Champion had 11 hits against Northwestern junior starter Jenna Robbins and reliever Miranda Gillman.

Johnson said it was a disappointing end, especially after the Warriors dominated most other opponents during their 27-3 season. But similar sour endings the last three seasons helped this year’s team advance to the state semifinals. The Warriors lost to Jonathan Alder (6-2) and Granville (8-1) in Div. II regional semifinals in 2014 and 2015 and lost to Johnstown-Monroe (4-2) in a D-III regional final last season.

Johnson said she hopes Friday’s loss will help the Warriors not only get back to Akron but play better at the state level.

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“The girls know what it takes to get here, and they saw what they have to do to (win) here,” Johnson said. “Hopefully we can get back.”

Northwestern’s three seniors were instrumental in the team’s success. Right fielder Maddie Current was second on the team in batting average (.474) and had 25 RBIs. Second baseman Abby Zerkle (.448 batting average) had only four errors in 30 games, and center fielder Rachel Martin scored 22 runs.

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“It’s been great playing this year with this team,” Zerkle said. “Really great all four years. I’m glad we got here.”

Aside from making the regionals each of the last four years, the Warriors captured the Central Buckeye Conference Mad River Division title and won at least 24 games each season.

“I have the utmost respect for them,” Johnson said. “They came in as freshmen and did an outstanding job, and they continued to all four years. I’m very proud of what they accomplished. It was a great overall season even though we didn’t like today’s outcome.”

Northwestern will have plenty of players back to try to earn another state berth. Robbins had the best batting average (.490) and most RBIs (62). The pitcher set multiple school records this season, including career strikeouts.

Gillman (.424), Rutherford (.417) and catcher Macie Crew (.379) also had good seasons at the plate. Gillman is a sophomore, while the rest are juniors.