by Beau Wicker
It’s been an up and down season for the Lewis Cass softball team.
But the Kings were in postseason form in the opening game of the Class 2A Cass Sectional. They opened the defense of their sectional crown with a 4-2 win over Northfield.
The Kings (14-12) face Southwood (6-12) at 5 p.m. Wednesday in a semifinal game. Northfield finishes 15-9.
Cass senior Charlie Nolen pitched seven solid innings to pick up the win. The hard-throwing right-hander fanned nine and allowed just two runs (one earned) on seven hits and four walks.
Nolen’s season has mirrored the Kings’ in that it’s been up and down. She’s battled shoulder soreness at times this season but was feeling just fine on Monday.
“It was one of my better games,” she said. “I’ve struggled a lot and I’ve been working really hard to get back to where I know I can be. I basically just thought positive because that’s all you can do is just think about that. I just took all the negative thoughts out of my head and threw the game I knew how to throw.”
Last season Nolen pitched the Kings to a sectional title, which included a 1-0 win over a previously undefeated North Miami team. But she had an injury to her right throwing shoulder that hampered her start to this season. She had some solid starts towards the end of the season and was in a groove on Monday.
“I started off with a bad shoulder. I wasn’t pitching for three months so that really set me back a lot,” she said.
The Kings also found their groove at the plate against Northfield senior right-hander Katelyn Shafer, who featured a good changeup. Shafer allowed four runs (two earned) on nine hits and three walks with four strikeouts.
Senior third baseman Brittany Cunningham went 4-for-4 with two doubles, an RBI and two runs scored to lead the Kings.
“I think the team did really well,” Cunningham said. “[Shafer] definitely had a good changeup. We didn’t let that affect us.
“We’ve struggled with getting ahead of teams and letting them come back, so that was a big thing, not letting them come back. Even with the bases loaded, everyone was up in the dugout and that helped a lot.”
Nolen escaped a bases-loaded, no-out jam with no damage in the top of the sixth inning when the Kings led 3-1. She got a pop-up back to herself and a strikeout for the first two outs and then fanned leadoff hitter Arie Kennedy for her ninth strikeout of the game to end the inning.
Northfield jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the third when Caitlin Elzroth singled, stole second and third on very close plays and scored on an infield single by Abby Keaffaber that bounced off the glove of diving second baseman Jennifer Salsbery. Shortstop Cheyenne Dittmaier picked up the carom but her throw was just late at first with two outs in the inning.
The Kings bounced back with two runs in the bottom of the frame to take the look for good. Cunningham doubled to start the rally. Emilee McCoy moved her to third with one of her three successful sacrifice bunts of the game. Megan Carden followed with a deep fly to center that would have scored Cunningham anyway, but the ball was dropped for a two-base error. Courtesy runner Meghan Hall later scored on a throwing error on an infield single by Dittmaier.
The Kings added a run in the fourth after Kassi Zeck singled, advanced to second on a sac bunt by Ashton McClain and scored on another double by Cunningham. They scored another in the sixth to take a 4-1 lead after Cunningham singled, moved to second on a sac bunt by McCoy and to third on an infield single by Carden before scoring on a passed ball on what appeared to be a cross-up on pitches with runners on second and third.
The Norsemen scored an unearned run in the seventh on a two-out RBI single by Emily Shafer and had the tying run on first when Nolen got a ground out to second to end the game.
“This was definitely one of our better performances,” Cass coach Jennifer Scott said. “Charlie pitched a great game and offensively we were patient at the plate and we were looking for the pitches that we could hit the best. We did a good job of adjusting to the changeup she was throwing. Defensively we played a pretty good game. We’ve kind of been up and down, we’ve not been able to put all three pieces together, and I think tonight we did a fairly good job of putting those pieces together.”
Alexa Humerickhouse went 2-for-2 for the Kings.
Keaffaber went 3-for-4 to lead the Norse. Elzroth scored both of their runs. Kennedy and Callie Monce each added a base hit.
In today’s action at the Cass Sectional, Manchester faces Wabash at 5 p.m. followed by Oak Hill vs. No. 5-ranked North Miami. The winners will square off following the Cass-Southwood game on Wednesday. The title game is set for 6:30 p.m. Thursday.