Lake Station's Karian Schiller connects on a bunt against Bishop Noll Friday afternoon at Bishop Noll in Hammond. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 18, 2013 8:29AM
Not that I’m trying to make an excuse before making predictions, but this could be the toughest year in recent memory to pick Northwest Indiana softball sectional winners.
OK, maybe it’s a little bit of an excuse since I’ll probably do poorly again, but hey, at least I’m giving it the old college try.
Now usually, these columns start with Class 4A and work their way down. But 4A isn’t the most competitive area class this year, though it will be interesting.
Good luck on trying to objectively pick a winner in the Lake Station Sectional. Wheeler, Bishop Noll, Whiting and even defending champ Lake Station have all looked good at times this season — some more than others. Two state-ranked teams in this group face right away — Noll at No. 6 and Whiting at No. 12 — while the host Eagles get a bye, waiting for Wheeler to beat River Forest. So there will be no winner in this group, just a survivor. And I say Noll survives a couple of tough games to win its first title since 2006.
The Rochester Sectional is darn competitive, too. The host Zebras are ranked No. 1 in the state, but they don’t have an easy route to a sectional title, let alone getting to the state finals. They get North Newton in the first round in a rematch of last year’s sectional final — the first time the Spartans reached a final. The next game for Rochester, if it wins, will be the winner of PCC rivals Hebron and Boone Grove. The Hawks are ranked No. 8 in the state, but Boone has played well for much of this season. Going on a limb, I say Hebron lives up to the ranking and upsets Rochester on its way to its third sectional crown in four years.
Back to the big class, most think Sectional 1 at Highland comes down to the first game on Monday — Lake Central vs. Munster. The Mustangs edged the Indians 5-4 very early in the season, but both teams are playing even better at this point of the campaign. LC has won three straight sectional titles, while Munster hasn’t won since 2008. I’m actually leaning toward Munster to win this one again, but going out on a limb again, I say Lowell beats the Mustangs (or LC) in the final since Brandi Faverty is pitching well for the Red Devils and it looks like they’ve gotten past a midseason slump.
Sectional 2 at Crown Point has an unbalanced draw with the consensus top three teams on the top of the bracket. Portage will likely get past LaPorte and will face the winner of Chesterton-CP. And whoever survives to reach the final will likely face Hobart, which is coming off some nice wins, including a 1-0 victory over CP last Saturday. I’d really like to pick Hobart, but that’s too many limbs. What do “they” say? It’s tough to beat a team three times in the same year? CP has beaten Chesterton twice, but I think the Trojans win the third time and go on to win their second consecutive title.
Inspiration. It’s an intangible that stat geeks dismiss. But I can delve into meathead fandom when needed, and I’m doing that in the Kankakee Valley Sectional. Defending state champ Andrean is still pretty good, but the host Kougars have Diane Cavinder to inspire them. The frail mom of Morgan will likely be in attendance for next week’s games — pancreatic cancer surgery resulting in the removal of her pancreas won’t stop her — and I think the Kougars survive matchups against Hanover and Andrean to win first title since 2006.
The Clark Sectional comes down to the host Pioneers — who haven’t won since 1998 — and Griffith, which won last year. Both teams have been up-and-down this season, but I’ll go with the Panthers in a close final since Clark’s Val Ruiz has pitched well again this season.
This is the toughest class overall, since it’s quite unpredictable. Whatever pitcher gets hot and whatever defense makes the least mistakes will survive, especially since there’s no region 1A team that will contend for a state title. So I’m going back on the limb, taking host LaCrosse to win its first title since 2009 on the strength of its hitting, and host South Central to win its sectional title, which would be the Satellites’ third straight.