by Beau Wicker
For the second straight year North Miami brought a highly ranked and highly accomplished softball team to face Lewis Cass for the sectional championship.
And for the second straight year the Kings came out on top.
The Kings once again collected sectional hardware, outplaying the No 5-ranked Warriors in a 7-1 win on Thursday in the Class 2A Cass Sectional final.
“We’ve been telling the girls all season long that they’re very capable of making it far in this tournament,” first-year Cass coach Jennifer (Berlet) Scott said. “It’s nice to see them finally jumping on the bandwagon and pulling it all together in the tournament.”
The Kings (16-12) will travel to Carroll for a regional game at 7 p.m. Tuesday night. North Miami finishes 20-3.
For the second straight year Cass right-hander Charlie Nolen shut down a high-octane Warrior attack. She shut them out in last year’s 1-0 win, and on Thursday she held them to one run on just three hits.
The lone run came in the fifth inning when North Miami freshman Josie Knauff hit a solo home run to center. Knauff had two of the Warriors’ three hits in the game, the other being a bunt single by Bailey Briggs.
But the Kings had built a 4-0 lead when Knauff homered, and they answered with three more runs in the top of the sixth.
North Miami features star sophomore Josie Wood, who has already verbally committed to pitch at IU. But the Kings put pressure on North Miami’s young defense all game, and the defense buckled.
And for the second straight year, Emilee McCoy may have had the biggest hit of the game. Last year she delivered the game-winning hit with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning. This season she got the Kings on the board first with an RBI single after both pitchers appeared nearly unhittable through the first two innings.
Ashton McClain walked and advanced to second to set up McCoy’s hard-hit single past the shortstop to give the Kings a 1-0 lead in the third inning.
The Warriors let a good opportunity slip away in the bottom of the third when they loaded the bases with two outs with Wood up to bat. But Nolen jammed her on the first pitch and induced a weak ground out to first. Wood might get a chance to hit at IU and entered the game with a .577 batting average.
North Miami’s defense started to falter in the fifth inning. Brittany Cunningham reached on an infield single and McCoy followed with a bunt single to put runners on. Then consecutive passed balls allowed Cunningham to score. Alexa Humerickhouse followed with an RBI single and later scored on a wild pitch following a North Miami error to make it 4-0.
The Kings added three more runs in the sixth. McClain and Cunningham reached on consecutive errors. McCoy then laid down a successful squeeze bunt and reached first after the late throw home. Megan Carden then followed with a line drive double off the fence in left center that scored two more runs to make it 7-1.
“We came out confident and we just kind of hung in there and did our best,” Carden said. “We put a lot of pressure on their defense.
“We had a lot of our hitters who hadn’t been hitting step up to the plate tonight and pick everyone up.”
Wood allowed seven runs (one earned) on seven hits and three walks, striking out seven.
“She’s a good pitcher, but I think we got under her skin tonight,” Carden said. “We just had a good hitting game.”
The Warriors didn’t help themselves by committing five errors and allowing several passed balls to boot.
“We just weren’t mentally prepared enough to execute at times,” North Miami coach Rob Cooley said. “I don’t know whether to attribute that to there are some freshmen on the team.”
Cooley also credited the Kings.
“They’re a speed team. If you have any flaws in your infield they’ll show it to you,” he said. “They put us in a position to do things we hadn’t all year. That, and we weren’t patient enough against Nolen, which we weren’t last year.”
Nolen walked just one and fanned 10 in pitching a three-hitter. She had a slow start to the season due to a shoulder injury but has been stellar in two tournament wins.
“I kept thinking positive again and went through all my pitches in my head before the game and I really felt confident in myself and in my team with the way they’ve been hitting,” she said. “I knew it was going to be tough, but I definitely came out with my A game and just trusted everything and it worked out.”
McCoy was a one-player wrecking crew, for the Kings finishing 2-for-2 with two RBIs and two runs scored. Cheyenne Dittmaier and Kassi Zeck added base hits for the Kings. Second baseman Meghan Hall made a great running catch to end the fourth inning, and the Kings didn’t make a single error in the contest.
The game was played in a 41-degree wind chill in late May. But the cold weather didn’t bother the red-hot Kings.
“We’re definitely on fire,” Nolen said.