Northwestern clinches softball title tie
WOODBURY – This championship thing is getting to be regular thing for the Northwestern Regional softball team.
The Highlanders grabbed their third BL title in four seasons Saturday, holding off Nonnewaug, 4-3. All that is left now is to add the cherry on top with a win over Lewis Mills Tuesday which would close out hopes for Thomaston of grabbing a share of the crown.
“We have a big game Tuesday, we have to focus on that,” said Northwestern’s senior third baseman Liz Newkirk. We have to focus on the game with Mills.”
Spoken like a champion. However, win or lose the Highlanders (17-1, 16-1) have some more championship hardware. It didn’t come easy but championships aren’t supposed to be waltzes in the park are they?
Last week, the Highlanders need to rally to turn back Thomaston, 5-4, and prevent a tie between the two teams. Nonnewaug also proved to be a pesky challenge. The Chiefs took an early 2-1 lead and then nearly escaped a 4-1 deficit in the last two innings.
But this Highlander team is made of stern stuff led by senior Liz Newkirk. The talented third baseman thrives in the big moment and produced a couple of very big moments against the Chiefs.
First she cranked a two-run home run in the second inning to erase a 1-0 deficit and Nonnewaug would never draw even again. Just last week Newkirk played a pivotal role in the win over Thomaston with a home run.
With one out and a runner on second, the Chiefs could have opted to bypass Newkirk and chose not to. Instead, Newkirk bypassed the outfield, slugging a two-run bomb for a 2-1 lead.
“When I get up I don’t think about what they are going to do,” said Newkirk. “I just try to be ready for anything. But it was nice to get pitched to. I really wanted to hit.”
The score stayed that way until the sixth inning adding a tense touch to the game. Then Newkirk made her presence felt again. A walk to Marissa Valente and error put Nonnewaug runners on first and second.
One out later Shannon Kimberly grounded hard to Newkirk at third base starting a perfect 5-3-2 double play. Newkirk to Michaela Cisowski at first back to home and catcher Hannah Yabrosky tagged Valente to complete the double play.
“It was perfect, we couldn’t have planned it any better,” said Northwestern coach Stacey Zematis. “We came up with key plays in important situations.”
“It was awesome,” added Newkirk. “We have been practicing that play in practice. All the throws were right on point.”
Northwestern put a little distance between the two teams, which would prove essential, in the sixth coming up with a pair of runs in the sixth inning on Jess Seymour’s RBI single with another run scoring on an error for a 4-1 lead.
Nonnewaug pitcher Victoria Heavens managed to keep the game from getting out of hand by leaving the bases loaded when she got Monica Swartley to ground to third base to end the inning.
The Chiefs refused to go quietly, cutting the deficit to 4-2 in the bottom of the inning when Kaylann Harmann plated Toni Nastri who had doubled. They were at it again in the seventh.
Valente tripled and scored on Amanda LoRusso’s single to right to make it 4-3. But, LoRusso tried to take second on the play and was thrown out, a key play. Kaylee Rasmussen followed with a single.
Then Swartley took over. With a title on the line, the junior hurler whiffed Kimberly and Nastri in succession.
“It’s amazing to have won the title three times in four years,” said Seymour. “I thought we would be in the top four but you never know, it is hard to predict.”
Nothing to predict now. The Highlanders are the champions.