Softball: Wheeler, Nickole Finch edge Whiting for 2A sectional title
By John O’Malley Post-Tribune correspondent May 24, 2013 10:42PM
Wheelers Karessa Sweeney (middle with helmet) is mobbed by teamates in celebration after Sweeney drove in the game winning run against Whiting during the Lake Station softball sectional championship game held at Lake Station High School on Friday May 24, 2013. | Charles Mitchell~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 26, 2013 6:18AM
LAKE STATION — Wheeler coach Marc Bruner posed a challenge to Nickole Finch before the Class 2A Lake Station Sectional even began.
“She doesn’t get enough attention,” Bruner said. “I challenged her to come out and not just be the best pitcher in the sectional, but the best player.”
Finch not only accepted her coach’s challenge but met it, while leading the Bearcats (17-7) to their fourth sectional title overall and first since 2010, with a 2-1 win over Whiting on Friday.
The junior lefthander amassed 17 strikeouts, allowed no earned runs and only three hits in winning her 14th game in 18 decisions.
Ironically, in an early-season win over the Oilers, Finch also recorded 17 strikeouts.
“She’s just really good and she’s such a competitor,” Bruner said. “She’s just taken us on her shoulders. She’s really matured a lot this year. She listens to me more. Communicates more with me and has definitely been a leader for this team.”
Finch fanned the side in three innings and struck out at least two every other frame as Wheeler earned a berth in Tuesday’s Winamac Regional game against the hosts at Winamac Town Park at 7 p.m.
“I guess I was just feeling it today,” Finch smiled. “I was just on my game. I knew what I was going to pitch. I like that feeling of being in command.”
Even with Finch in command, though, things didn’t look so good for the Bearcats early.
Whiting (21-5) took a 1-0 lead in the top of the second inning after Abby Bondi doubled and reached third on a passed ball.
Wheeler second baseman Karessa Sweeney had an opportunity to end the inning, but dropped a fly ball in right-center, allowing the Oilers to score.
“When I dropped that fly ball, I told myself I had to do something to make sure that we won,” said Sweeney, who drove in courtesy runner Haley Lovison with her walk-off single in the bottom of the seventh.
“I was so excited.”
Sweeney was jumping for joy following her walk-off sectional-winner.
“I wasn’t doing very good before the sectional started,” she said. “I’d been dipping my shoulder too much and I just couldn’t get a good hit, so I changed my swing. “Now, I square around like I’m bunting and then I pull back. It helps me see the ball a lot better. I can see change-ups way better, too.”
Bruner was so excited over the game-winning hit, he ran from the dugout to congratulate Sweeney, who was a .400 hitter last year, but came into the postseason batting only .240 after being below .100 earlier.
“I love that kid,” Bruner said. “She’s a phenomenal young lady. She just lives and dies for softball. She’s really turned it on for us here (in the postseason).”
Whiting’s Mollie Lovasko definitely pitched well enough to win, allowing only three hits with 10 strikeouts.
“I think Mollie was fantastic,” Whiting coach Paul Laub. “Hats off to her again. She pitched a great game for us. She held her cool, but it’s tough to keep a good team down for a long time. Finch is a quality pitcher — one of the best.”
Finch’s curve ball was working well. She’s worked on it with Andrean coach Brooke Baker-Runyon — her travel team coach with White Sox Academy.
“She definitely gave me the insight on it,” Finch said. “I have to give her a lot of credit for working with me on that.”