BY PEDRO VELAZCO KOKOMO TRIBUNE
---- — To Western’s softball team, the best thing about its 10-4 non-conference victory over Northwestern on Thursday was that after unraveling in the third inning, the Panthers picked themselves up, cleaned up their play and took control once again.
Western led 5-0 after scoring four runs in the top of the third but Northwestern answered with four runs of its own in a 10-batter inning that featured four hits, two walks, a Western error and a wild pitch.
The Panthers answered with three runs in the top of the fourth, highlighted by a two-run Jenna Wiechmann bomb over the fence in right-center to take an 8-4 lead.
“I liked the fact that we came back,” Western coach Jim Clouse said. “When they got it to 5-4, I think the most important inning of the game was when we came back and put three more on [the scoreboard] and kind of separated again.
“Had we come back, I believe, in that inning and got nothing and stayed 5-4, then the momentum stays in their favor. I think we switched the momentum back in our favor. It’s nice to see the girls struggle for an inning and come back and survive that.”
Erika Beeler started for Western and was relieved with an out in the third by freshman Lexy Sanders after Northwestern scored four runs. Sanders got the win, throwing 4 2/3 innings. She allowed no hits while walking two, striking out two, and hitting a batter on in windy conditions.
Her performance helped steady Western.
“[Western] really played well other than that inning,” Clouse said. “We kind of booted it around a little bit and they got some good, solid hits in that inning as well. Lexy came in for Erika, I thought she did a good job and the defense did settle down some. [We’ve] just got to eliminate that inning.”
After going up 8-4 through four innings, the Panthers put two more on the board in the sixth on a two-run blast to dead center by Abby Renken for the game’s final runs.
“It seemed like with Erika, we were hitting things, and Lexy, we were putting the ball in play, but hitting right to people, popping things up,” NW coach Jordan Dyer said.
Freshman Lauryn Wyrick took the loss, pitching all seven innings for Northwestern, which elected not to throw primary pitcher Crystal Metz in the non-league game.
“We knew coming in it was probably going to be a battle of the bats,” Dyer said. “They’ve been hitting the ball great all year. I told the girls that they’re going to put the ball in play. This is Lauryn Wyrick’s first varsity start, first varsity pitching of any kind. I thought she did a great job, but we knew they were going to hit, we just couldn’t make mistakes and I told them we let a couple girls get some extra bases.
“Against a team that has as good of team speed [as Western has] you’ve got to keep the ball in the dirt and can’t let it get to the grass or they’re going to get extra bases.”
Brooke Strunk had two singles and scored both times for Western, Haley Conaway had two hits, and Wiechmann and Renken each knocked in three runs.
For NW, Macey Jordan had a two-run double in the third, two batters after Bailey Thatcher plated two runs with a single. Kelsey Richards had a double and a single for the Tigers, and Kaitlyn Kennedy reached base all three times she batted. She drew two walks and was hit by a pitch.
Both squads are 5-2.