Northwest’s softball team cruised undefeated through the first 16 games of the regular season, but they stumbled in the final week of the regular season, getting swept by Bishop Carroll and then losing to Maize.
Several key players were slumping offensively, and pitchers Emily and Mary Henning both have injuries.
Tuesday night, though, Northwest beat Heights 2-0 in the regional final to advance to the Class 6A tournament in Lawrence on May 25-26.
“These kids are awesome,” said Northwest coach Merri Copeland, whose team improved to 19-3. “The parents are awesome. It’s nice not having any drama.”
The win was made doubly special because Northwest failed to advance to the 6A tournament in 2011, despite having a team loaded with talent and experienced players. That team lost to Hutchinson in the first postseason game, the regional semifinals.
“It was horrible,” Northwest junior second baseman Erika David said. “None of us saw it coming. We were devastated, we were all crying.
“All year that haunted us. We’re not going to repeat that. It’s not going to be us again.”
Heights proved to be a tough opponent, though.
Heights, which beat Hutchinson 10-6 to advance to the final, had runners in scoring position in the first two innings and pitcher Laura Farkas held Northwest scoreless through the first three.
Northwest had runners at first and second with one out in the third, but Heights center fielder Bree Drury caught a fly ball and then threw out a runner at third for an inning-ending double play.
But in the fourth, Emily Henning led off with a single for Northwest and then Heights had two errors to load the bases. David hit a liner to left, scoring Lyndi McIntyre for the game’s first run.
“I’ve been in a slump, and I needed to do something for my team,” said David, whose team advanced to the regional final by beating North 18-0 in three.
After Emily Henning, who came on in relief in the third for Mary Henning, shut down Heights in order in the fifth, Northwest shortstop Cassidy Harbert took a 1-0 pitch over the left-field wall to open the bottom of the inning.
“That gave us a cushion,” David said. “It always takes the edge off when you have the lead.”
Still, Heights, which had won 15 straight coming into the game, had its chances.
“We were never out of the game,” said Heights coach Kip Pulliam, whose team finished the season at 15-7. “We went down swinging. We had two great swings at the end of the game to try to keep the game alive.”
Emily Henning, Northwest’s lone senior, held Heights in check. She combined with Mary Henning for a no-hitter and had four strikeouts and one walk.
“Our defense was so tight,” Henning said. “I’m so proud of our defense. I feel like we’ve struggled a little bit over the course of the season with our defense. They really played well today…. Mary and I, we’ve worked really well together all season. When she’s struggling, I’m there for her. When I’m struggling, I’m glad she’s there for me.”
Northwest 2, Heights 0
0000000—0 0 2Northwest000110x—2 7 1
W — E. Henning. L — Farkas. HR — Harbert, Northwest.
Northwest 18, North 0
000xxxxxx—0 3 7Northwest10 8 xxxxxxx—18 10 1
W — E. Henning. L — Parge.
Heights 10, Hutchinson 6
0230010—6 8 4Heights202051x—10 12 7
W — Farkas. L — Becker. HR — Smallwood, Heights.