Youthful Warriors playing like veterans

For Northwestern, it’s been softball as usual this postseason. But at the beginning of its second straight trip to the Division II regionals the team’s youth showed.

“You could tell they were a little nervous,” coach Missy Johnson said of a first-round 4-3 victory over Greenon. “It was the first time a lot of them had experienced tournament play.”

Since, the Warriors, a No. 3 sectional seed, have played like veterans. They beat No. 7 Shawnee and No. 9 Tippecanoe to win the sectional. Then they survived Clinton Massie 12-11 on Saturday in the district final.

“With each game that we’ve played they’re back to their normal selves,” Johnson said. “They’re having fun in the dugout and encouraging each other. So we expect the same tomorrow.”

Wednesday, the Warriors (24-5) face Granville (24-6), a No. 5 sectional seed, in the regional semifinals at 5 p.m. at Mason High School. Granville knocked off defending state runner-up Jonathan Alder on Saturday. Granville, led by pitcher Abby Barker, is playing in its second regional in three years after losing to Alder at districts last year.

Northwestern lost to Alder on this stage last year with a group of six seniors taking the lead. This year Johnson starts as many as four freshmen and four sophomores and two juniors. Johnson, who is in her 15th year, and her assistant coaches didn’t have to devise special schemes to get the young team to perform at this level.

“We’ve just been coaching as we always have,” she said. “They’re very dedicated, which we’ve had out here in the past. It’s just continuing with these girls.”

They have watched and learned. Some have watched older sisters in the program, some came to watch last year because of the seniors. And as a middle school club team they have watched varsity games together.

“They know the high expectations here and they’ve been able to respond well and play softball the way they’ve been taught through the years,” Johnson said.

They’ve also grown up playing together. Getting to know each other has not been part of the varsity learning curve. Instead, the team has been a fast learner of what it takes to win in high school.

“We’re just enjoying the games and the time we have left,” Johnson said. “Hopefully we have a long run still ahead of us. Our mentality is do the little things. That was our mentality last year, and it’s carried over here as of late with this group of girls.”

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