High School Softball
No. 2-ranked Lady Vikings hold off No. 4 Greenbrier
by Chris Goltermann
Had each taken care of business last week in respective regions, Northgate and Greenbrier's varsity softball teams could have easily played Thursday's elimination game in the backdrop of this year's Class AAAAA Elite 8 Tournament in Columbus.
But as it was between the No. 2 and No. 4 ranked teams in the classification, the 2013 season was about to end in disappointment for one of the two.
The Lady Vikings made sure it wasn't them.
In their final home game of the season, Northgate put last week's struggles at the Region 4-AAAAA tournament in the rear-view mirror, capitalizing on Greenbrier's early mistakes in Game 3 of the duo's first-round state playoff series and then letting pitching and defense do the rest in a 3-1 victory over the Lady Wolfpack.
The effort, which saw senior pitcher McKenzie Peace allow an unearned run off five hits, was worth waiting through a three-and-a-half hour rain delay that turned an afternoon game into an animated setting worthy of a Friday night under the lights at Columbus' South Commons Complex.
' It should have been. We both screwed up at our regions,' admitted Northgate head coach Lisa Skelton, whose program is now two victories away from returning to Columbus and a shot at a third-state championship over a five-year span. 'But things happened that way because that's how they were supposed to happen. They've been playing this game long enough to know that their body knows what to do. They've just got to keep their head out of it.'
The Lady Vikings (23-6-1) now advance to play former Region 3-AAAA opponent Harris County (24-7), which defeated Greenbrier 2-1 in a rain-shortened game earlier this season. The Lady Tigers went undefeated in 1-AAAAA to earn a No. 1 playoff seed.
Despite losing the pregame coin flip prior to Thursday's Game 3 against Greenbrier for the right to bat last, the Lady Vikings took advantage of a pair of errors to score unearned runs in the first and fourth innings and then used a third miscue keep a twoout rally alive in the top of the sixth that produced another insurance run on senior Casey Kent's clutch RBI single for a 3-0 lead.
'If you're able to capitalize on another team's mistakes, your girls are getting the job done,' Skelton said.
It helped push Northgate back to consecutive victories for the first time since dropping three straight, the initial pair to close the 4-AAAAA tournament in disappointing losses to Ola after being two outs away from a potential region title. The latter saw the Lady Vikings commit six errors.
That number, though, was reduced to just one on Thursday, as Northgate made defensive stops when it counted most.
Kent made a pair of key putouts from shortstop in the bottom of the inning, the first with the bases-loaded, to help senior pitcher McKenzie Peace work out of a final jam before retiring the side in order in the bottom of the seventh.
'As a team we just had to just be focused on getting the job done, getting ahead in the count and playing good defense,' said Peace. 'We wanted to stay calm, but we didn't want to be nervous to where it affected us. Since last Friday and our first game [Wednesday] our defense has turned a complete 180.'
A fly ball that glanced off the top of right-fielder Jessica Houk's glove blossomed into a bases-loaded opportunity for Greenbrier in the bottom of the sixth. But Kent didn't hesitate on a sharp groundball to force the lead-runner at home.
After a Lady Wolfpack single closed the gap to 3-1, Kent f ielded a ball hit into the hole near the edge of the dirt between third and short and fired to first-baseman Emily Heath in time to end the threat.
As the rain began to fall early
Thursday, officials had talked about possibly playing the deciding game of the series on Saturday, but the Northgate staff worked the field into shape knowing how important it was to continue the momentum from an 11-2 victory in Game 2 on Wednesday night.
'I knew if we were going to win the game, we were going to have to do it tonight,' Skelton said. 'At this year everybody is physically and mentally tired, so what you have to do is make things fresh for them. You can't take away the pressure.'What we had to do was channel our emotions and stay in the game, but not be so tight so we couldn't enjoy what we were doing.'
The Lady Vikings took some of the pressure off Peace right away when Brenna Skalski reached third to lead off the game on an error in right field. Following a walk to Carly Alderman, Jenna Pealor's grounder to short gave Skalski enough time to scamper home for the 1-0 lead.
The same scenario worked to Northgate's favor in the fourth when speedy senior outfielder Ebonee Echols reached on an infield error to open the inning, moved to second on Kent's sacrifice bunt and scored on Lauren DeLoach's clutch two-out single.