Softball: NWI sectionals will feature some heavyweight battles in opening round
By Steve T. Gorches 314-3797 or email@example.com May 14, 2013 11:42AM
Crown Point's Rachael Honaker connects on a pitch during a game against Munster on Friday, April 5, 2013, in Crown Point. | Scott R. Brandush~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 15, 2013 9:40PM
Nothing like getting that tough matchup out of the way right off the bat in the postseason.
After last week’s 29th annual IHSAA softball tournament draw, three of the region’s top sectionals will have the consensus two best teams in the bracket facing off in their first game on either May 20, or May 21.
Starting with Class 4A in Sectional 1, Munster and Lake Central have the first game. The two teams that have combined to win sectional titles in 19 of the last 21 years played on April 3, with the Mustangs winning 5-4. But Munster coach Beth Thornburg would rather look ahead, not back at that victory.
“We are a much different team now than we were then, and I am sure (LC) Coach (Jeff) Sherman feels they are a much better team now,” she said. “You have to play the best to be a champion, so it doesn’t matter if we play LC the first game or in the championship.”
Sherman’s actually looking forward to the game, no matter when it takes place.
“We have had some great postseason battles with them over the past three years and I’m sure this game will fall into that category,” he said.
Both teams are peaking at the right times. The Mustangs just clinched the Northwest Crossroads Conference title earlier this week after a good showing at the Twin Lakes invite, while the Indians have won 18 of their last 20 games.
In the other 4A sectional, three teams have a very good shot at finishing the week with the trophy, and all three are on the top half of the eight-team bracket.
Chesterton and Crown Point will face off in the second game of the first day, after Portage and LaPorte play. Crown Point locked up the DAC crown Thursday.
Two of the contenders for the Greater South Shore crown get to face off for the third time in the first game of the Class 2A Lake Station Sectional. Whiting and Bishop Noll, both ranked in the state coaches’ poll, play on the second day of the tournament after Wheeler and River Forest play in the first game. Host Lake Station gets the winner of the latter contest.
The Oilers and Warriors actually played their previous two games earlier this week, thanks to postponements.
“We played on Tuesday and were leading 3-1 in the sixth when their hitters came out in the sixth and scored five runs; we lost 7-3,” Whiting coach Paul Laub said. “We played them (on Wednesday) and they scored three in the first and ended up winning 4-0.
“They have very good hitters and a solid battery. It’s a tough sectional with any team capable of winning. I don’t think anyone picked Lake Station to win last year. We need to come with our A game and if we do, we have the ability to beat anyone in the sectional.”
In 3A, rivals with a history in the tournament will likely face in the final. It’s just a matter of which two.
Kankakee Valley opens its own sectional with Calumet while Hanover Central plays Knox. Assuming KV and Hanover move on as expected, it could be a repeat of their contest earlier this season.
“Our first game with Hanover was a 7-6 wind-blown slugfest that was decided in extra-innings,” Kougars coach Brian Flynn said. “We just want to approach each game as if it was for the tournament championship.”
One of those teams would face defending state champ Andrean in the final. The 59ers, who have won six straight sectional titles, and Kougars have played some classic sectional games, as have Andrean and Hanover going back to when both schools were in 2A.
“Obviously, Andrean is the perennial power in our sectional,” Flynn said. “But we can’t look ahead to that contest until we get through the first two rounds.”