It’s been 17 seasons since the Northwestern Warriors have experienced the high school state softball semifinals. There have been some close calls, including last season’s seventh-inning setback.
So after breaking through with a 10-6 win over Columbus Bishop Ready for a Division III regional championship last Saturday, does reaching the state tournament feel like she thought it would?
»RELATED: Northwestern tops Bishop Ready
“I would have to say yes,” Northwestern coach Missy Johnson said. “It’s interesting because people I haven’t heard from in awhile have contacted me and congratulated myself and the girls. It’s a good feeling.”
Northwestern makes its first state softball appearance since 2000. It’s the program’s eighth state trip overall with runner-up finishes in 1991, 1989 and 1978.
Northwestern (27-2, ranked No. 3 in the final state poll) plays Warren Champion (30-2, ranked No. 2) in the second state semifinal Friday at 12:30 p.m. at Akron Firestone Stadium. Top-ranked Wheelersburg (24-2) plays No. 4 Cardington-Lincoln (25-4) at 10 a.m.
»RELATED: Complete state softball schedule
Champion makes its ninth state appearance and first since 2015 when the Golden Flashes won their sixth state championship (2015, 2012, 2011, 1994, 1980, 1978).
“I think at this point they’re just excited to go,” Johnson said of facing the perennial power. “When we did leave each other on Saturday (after the regional championship) the kids were focused on having two games left. I think we’re going to take one inning at a time and try to win the inning.”
That philosophy propelled the Warriors to the regional title Saturday at Wright State University. Northwestern took a 10-5 lead into the seventh inning aided by junior catcher Macie Crew’s three-run homer in the sixth. Ready loaded the bases with one out in the seventh but managed one run before Northwestern settled down.
“Saturday when we started the seventh off a little rocky, that thought did cross my mind a little bit,” Johnson said of last season’s regional final loss. “Once we got that first out I knew we had it. The girls had calmed down a little bit.
“A lot of smiles. A lot of hugs. The girls, especially the seniors, they’ve wanted this the entire season. To get to the final four they definitely don’t want the season to end on Friday. They want to finish what we started on Saturday.”
Northwestern faces a Champion team that has allowed one run in five postseason games. The Golden Flashes have allowed two runs or fewer in 27 games, including 15 shutouts.
Offensively, the Golden Flashes have pounded out 68 doubles, 14 triples and 43 home runs. Freshman Allison Smith leads them with a .515 batting average, 17 home runs and 61 runs batted in. Junior Megan Turner has 13 homers.
Senior McKenzie Zigamont is the team ace with a 19-1 record, 1.26 earned-run average and 155 strikeouts in 122 innings.
“At this point if you make it to the final four everyone is going to be good,” said Johnson, who has done some online scouting of the Golden Flashes. “They can hit the ball, I know that.
“I think we’ll go out and enjoy the moment. We’ll still play hard the entire game. We’ll go up Thursday and watch a game or two just to get a feel for the stadium. Maybe hopefully get some anxiety out on Thursday before we play Friday.”