Pharos-Tribune sportswriter

LAKEVILLE — It is often said that the best defense is a good offense.

That has largely been the case for the Winamac softball team this season, which boasts four hitters batting above the .300 mark. In round one and two victories at the Rochester Sectional, the Lady Warriors ran up 15 total runs en route to the championship game against Rensselaer.

But in Winamac’s two Class 2A LaVille Regional games on Saturday, the Warriors had to rely on defense to get the job done. They lived and died by it.

In their round one, 3-1 regional victory over Delphi, Winamac’s defense was up to the task. In the championship game against Hammond Bishop Noll, however, their luck changed for the worse, and the Warriors lost 6-3.

“It means a lot to these kids,” said Hammond Bishop Noll coach Ralph Laramie of his team’s regional title. “I’ll be honest, this isn’t the best team that we’ve had, but they play as a team. There are no individuals.”

Not that Winamac’s (22-5) defensive execution was that bad. The Warriors did rack up five errors in their championship loss — four more than they committed in game one earlier in the day — but that was only one more than Bishop Noll. And Winamac displayed some solid hitting as well, as five Warriors combined for six hits, compared to seven by Bishop (14-15).

But what decided the outcome of the regional title contest more than anything was the type of errors committed by Winamac. Whereas the team has usually been able to skate by with a few minimal mistakes, the lapses it made against the other Warriors from Hammond Bishop Noll proved too costly.

“I really don’t think the kids were nervous,” said Winamac coach Jennifer Belcher of her young team’s first regional championship performance. “I think we came ready to play. We just had some costly errors. We’ve been able to avoid those kind of errors so far, but this time we just couldn’t avoid them.”

Winamac’s defensive woes started early in the final game, as the team made two errors for two unearned runs in the second and third innings. In the bottom of the second, with two outs and Bishop runners on second and third after a two-run double rip from lead-off hitter Alison Rokosz — who went three-for-four in hitting at the game — Winamac third baseman Janelle Fritz boggled a hard grounder.

Impatient for the final out, Fritz rushed a throw to first which was already doomed to be late, and Bishop’s Rachel DeWold crossed home plate when the throw went errant.

In fact, several of the mistakes that wound up costing the Warriors runs seemed to be the result of overreaching.

That was certainly the case in the third frame with Winamac’s second error of the game. After advancing a runner to third via a double and a sacrifice bunt and taking first on a walk, Bishop was facing only one out with two on. The next batter faked a bunt in a transparent attempt to squeeze a run home by drawing a throw for an automatic out at either first or second. Winamac catcher Cortney Brandt threw to short, however, and faked out the runner on third, who made a break for home but was thrown out by Kristen Alexander.

The throw to home triggered a steal attempt by the Bishop runner at second, however. Rather than allowing the steal, and letting pitcher Whitlee Scott face down Bishop’s seventh batter — who she ended up fanning — Brandt attempted to pick her off at third for the double play.

The result was an overthrow and another run for Bishop. In similar fashion, an unnecessary pick-off throw to third by Brandt with two outs in the fourth frame went slightly wild, giving Bishop’s Rokosz a head start at home. Fritz recovered the ball for the throw home in time, but Rokosz knocked the ball out of Brandt’s mitt to score safely. While not technically an error, the play was a miscalculation that probably shouldn’t have been attempted.

Belcher said that her team’s efforts to overachieve is something she tried to address in practices leading up to the LaVille championship game.

“We had one practice where we keyed in,” she said. “It seems like they thought things had to be perfect, and I told them that they didn’t need to be perfect, they just had to play their best.”

If the Warriors had learned the lesson, then maybe their semifinal match against Delphi (14-16) made them forget as they put in a nearly flawless performance.

The Warriors racked up seven hits against Delphi’s Ashley Brodar in their 3-1 regional victory over the Lady Oracles. Not too shabby considering the fact that Brodar gave up only one run in three games at the North Montgomery Sectional.

Scott — who led in total hits for Winamac at the tournament with four — and Cortney Brandt split four hits between them, and Rachel Mendiola ripped a deep line to left that scored courtesy runner Hannah Hendryx in the bottom of the sixth. But what was most impressive about Winamac in game one was its infield, as the Oracles left 12 total runners stranded on base for the game.

“Our defense came through for us several times,” said Belcher. “Particularly in the (sixth) inning with that catch by Crawford. For her to make that catch and then have the presence of mind to see the runner and make the throw was incredible.”

The Crawford play that Belcher was referring to was a brilliant double play that retired the side and saved the Warriors in the nick of time.

Mendiola had struggled with hitting the strike zone throughout the afternoon, walking nine batters before she was relieved in the seventh by Scott for the final out of the game. In the sixth frame, Mendiola walked the lead-off hitter, then gave up a single to Delphi’s Alyssa Lewis to put Oracles on first and second. She fanned the next batter, but subsequently gave up another base on balls to load the bases with only one Delphi out.

Next up, Brittany Tyner popped one back foul, and Crawford exploded into action, hauling down the first base line to make the catch and coming up with the out despite colliding with Brandt, whose attention was also focused on the ball. As the two recovered, Delphi’s Aspen Wallace looked on from third, and, thinking she saw her opening, made a break for home plate.

But Wallace had underestimated Crawford’s awareness, and the spindling junior leapt up to chase her down before throwing to Fritz at third to get the tag and the final out.

Although the Warriors fell short of the LaVille title, they still managed to accomplish more than any previous Winamac softball team. They took the school’s first sectional title, recording over 20 wins in the process. And with only two seniors on the squad, most of the Warriors will have the chance to try again next season.

“I told them, ‘Don’t hang your heads,’” said Belcher. “They’ve accomplished more than any other team. They have nothing to be ashamed of. They’re upset because they lost and they think they let people down, but I don’t think anyone is going to be ashamed of them.”

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