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PREP SOFTBALL: Wawasee's total team performance locks up 2-0 start

Mar. 28—SYRACUSE — The offense came easy for Wawasee Thursday night.

Hosting Elkhart (1-2) in the Warriors second game before spring break, Wawasee absorbed a first inning blitz to counter the rest of the way, beating the Lions 7-3 and moving to 2-0.

Returning senior Haylee Allen shined in the circle, pitching the final five innings, striking out nine, walking two, allowing one run off four hits.

"I'm learning that they don't give up when the going gets tough," Wawasee head coach Chloe McRobbie said. "A lot of times in the past we've gotten down when the other team has scored or when the other team is trying to take the momentum but they bounced back very quickly which I think shows a lot about their perseverance about the sport. I'm very, very proud of them for not letting up."

Elkhart's Laci Stimac took the loss, giving up seven runs (four earned) in three-plus innings pitched. The Lions as a whole totaled nine hits (matching Wawasee) with just one coming from the final five spots in the lineup.

Thursday's game, which saw the sun peak through scattered clouds to give relief from a chilly breeze, started with Elkhart's Bailey Harris-Rodgers punctuating the scoreboard with a two-run blast, scoring leadoff hitter Natalie Smith.

In the bottom frame, Stimac retired three of the first four Warrior batters, building on the strong start to the evening affair.

Wawasee starting pitcher Evelyn Duncan escaped a two-out rally which was put together by the Lion's top of the order. Duncan was rewarded keeping the deficit at two in the bottom frame.

With runners on first and second, Wawasee's Ashlynn Corn put a ball in play towards the circle. A throw to first sailed past, allowing the home Warriors to bring their first run. With two outs and one-hole hitter Makayla Horn at the plate, Corn took off for second. Throwing to the base, the reception wasn't clean, allowing Abbagail Willey (1-2, 2 runs, 2 RBI's) to dash home from third and even the score at two.

"I think you have to kind of take some risks on the bases every once in a while especially if you're the team with the upper hand and that's what we did," McRobbie said. "We executed with our delayed steal, got in their heads a bit and we were able to capitalize on that and make it hurt by hitting the ball afterwards."

Allen was sent in for relief after Duncan's two innings. It was like watching a buzz saw get taken down from the shelf.

The senior struck her first batter out, punching the fourth Lion batter of the inning out to end the frame.

Eight Warriors came to the dish in the third, scoring four runs off four hits. With the bases loaded and one out, Wiley connected on the ball that found the inside part of the right field foul stripe, getting to second base by the time two runs had scored and put Wawasee out in front for good. A sacrifice fly from Corn scored Heatherlynn Holder and a single from Natalya Holder scored Wiley.

With Allen avoiding some brief danger in the fourth, the Warriors put Stimac in trouble in the bottom frame. After back-to-back hits from Jaclynn Worrell and Allen (2-3, 1 run), Elkhart sent Natalie Smith to the circle to try and salvage the 6-2 deficit. A sacrifice fly from Duncan scored the final Wawasee run before Smith was able to exit the frame.

The Lions were met with more offensive struggles with Allen in the circle. Scoring once more off a double from Ava Walker, Wawasee strapped the seventh down for the 7-3, home opening win.

BUILDING CONFIDENCE

Wawasee brings back one of the more balanced teams in The Goshen News' coverage area. While just six players are upperclassmen, the younger talent on the remaining part of the roster certainly brings its own punch.

Freshman Kenadi Pierce worked a pinch-hit situation into a rocket in between shortstop and third while the sophomore Wiley was the bigger share of Thursday's strong performance from the younger aspects of the team.

That builds confidence, which McRobbie seemed to be enjoying when talking about her group for the 2024 season.

"I think the girls are going to be pretty confident moving around at different positions," McRobbie said. "A lot of our younger girls are stepping up too and even when they're not a starter they're getting ready to go in and get work done."

"Kenadi coming in that last inning after not having an at-bat all game and then coming in and getting a hit... those are the things I think our team is very capable of and I think a lot of people are going to be surprised when they see Wawasee softball this year."

Having last won a sectional title in 2021, there is good reason to believe in the Warriors reaching that mountain this season. With Allen providing in the circle and at the dish, and a balanced lineup serving the team well, a 2-0 start to this year's campaign may go a long way to creating a strong team down the stretch.

Reach Matt Lucas at 574-533-2151, ext. 240325, or at matt.lucas@goshennews.com.