CENTRALIA, Ill. – There was an almost regal aura of superiority surrounding the Lake Land College softball team as play began Friday in the NJCAA Region 24 tourmament.
Why not? The Lakers had won the last four titles, they were 51-game winners ranked eighth in the latest Division I national poll, and had already won the Great Rivers Athletic Conference regular-season championship by a full five games.
However, a strange thing happened on the way to the coronation.
Lake Land was stunned in the tournament’s very first game Friday by Kaskaskia, 2-1. Then, Wabash Valley finished the Lakers off on Saturday with a 7-3 win in the championship game. So, it is the Lady Warriors instead who will be going to St. George, Utah for the NJCAA national tournament from May 13-16.
“I just thought in some of the stories in the newspaper in Mattoon they thought they were going to waltz through this,” said Wabash Valley coach Paul Schnarre. “I thought the tournament was wide open. I knew we had been playing well at the end (of the regular season) so I knew we had a chance.”
WVC (37-11) wasted little time in the final, scoring four runs in the first to take a lead it would never relinquish. The Lakers aided the getaway with the first two of six errors they would commit in the game.
“That was huge,” said Schnarre of the first-inning outburst. “I didn’t envision that, but it sure made life easier.”
One of the Laker errors allowed two runs to score. The only RBI hit the Lady Warriors had in the first frame came on a single up the middle from Megan Godoyo.
WVC shelved Lake Land starter Carly Murphy in the second inning with another run to make it 5-0. Kenedy House singled in Kera Hartman to make it 5-0.
After Lake Land scored three runs in the second to cut the deficit to 5-3, the Lady Warriors finished them off with two runs in the fifth. RBI hits by Mackenzie McGregor and Hartman drove home runners who had reached via errors. Only two of WVC’s seven runs were earned on the day.
As they have all season, the Lady Warriors called on Allison Webster to carry them in the circle. And, the sophomore from Charlestown, Ind. did not disappoint. She appeared in both WVC games on Friday, throwing a combined 12.2 innings and striking out 18 batters to earn wins over Rend Lake (6-2) and Kaskaskia (12-2).
Saturday, Webster (now 22-2 on the year) allowed Lake Land only five hits. The top of the Laker order combined for only two hits, and slugger Sarah Lopesilvero, who had 18 home runs during the regular season, was held hitless in four trips to the plate.
After losing to Lake Land earlier in the year, Webster admitted the Lakers may have been in her head – until Friday’s first-round loss.
“At the beginning of the year, I didn’t have any confidence against Lake Land. But with Kaskaskia beating them, I had a lot of confidence. If they could do it, I could do it,” Webster said.
Webster wiggled out of a bases-load jam in the fourth when she coaxed Jessica Murray into a fly ball into right field to end the inning.
Interestingly enough, Webster, who was in the top five nationally in strikeouts per inning, fanned only one batter all day.
Offensively, WVC banged out 13 hits. Hartman finished 3-of-4 at the plate. Carley Childress and Godoyo had two hits each.
“We really hit the ball well all tournament,” said Schnarre, the Hall of Fame coach who crossed the 1,200 career win plateau earlier in the season. “This team is just playing better all the time. We’ll see what happens at nationals."
This will be the 10th Lady Warrior team Schnarre has taken to the NJCAA tournament, the first since 2009.
NOTES: There will be 16 teams gathered in Utah for the double-elimination tourney, played on four fields at the Canyon complex in St. George, a city of 75,000 located in the southwest corner of the state.