WINSTED – Top-seeded Northwestern blew out nearly all its opponents in an undefeated regular season in the Berkshire League.
Wednesday, the Highlanders survived their second straight Class M state tournament nailbiter in a 4-3 round two softball win over No. 17 Oxford at Northwestern High School.
Northwestern, now 22-0, slammed Nonnewaug 15-0 in its final regular-season game, then endured a bevvy of Chief hits and bunts in round one for an 8-5 win.
Last year, the Highlanders eliminated Oxford in this same round on their way to the Class M semifinals.
This time, Oxford pounded the BL’s Lewis Mills 13-2 in the first round, then out-hit Northwestern 8-6 in the second.
“They’re wake-up calls,” said Gina Weingart, the Highlanders’ only starting senior on a team that graduated four starters last year.
“We’re all really good hitters,” Weingart said. “It’s not so much if we can hit, but when.”
“We under-performed today,” said Oxford coach Jim Husar. “We couldn’t wait on the ball.”
Timing on both sides was the key to Wednesday’s nip-and-tuck game.
Oxford took advantage of a first-inning infield error with two outs that Kept Molly Sustram from being stranded on first with a single. Instead, after the error sent Sustram to second, a single by freshman Maddie Sustram loaded the bases and Jenna Myers drew a walk for the game’s first run.
In the bottom of the inning, Weingart began her own game-long timing exhibition with Harley Jasmin, from Northwestern’s second and third spots in the batting order.
“Honestly, the spot in the order doesn’t really matter to me,” said Jasmin, who moved up with Weingart during the season. “I just try to get a hit.”
The combination tied the score in the first inning with Weingart’s first of three walks followed by an RBI double from Jasmin.
In the third inning, timely hitting began with a Northwestern single by lead-off hitter Sydney Sanden. Weingart followed with a triple to deep left center field. Jasmin singled Weingart home for a 3-1 Northwestern lead.
Next inning, the Highlander lead jumped to 4-1 on an error to Sanden following a Wolverine double play and Jasmin’s third straight RBI on a single to right.
But Oxford’s first-round beat-down of a good Mills team was no fluke.
“They hit well,” said Northwestern coach Stacey Zematis.
Down 4-1 in the top of the fifth, Molly Sastram and Sage Borkowski reached first and third base on a pair of singles with one out. Maddie Sastram launched a two-run double to left field.
A walk by Northwestern pitcher Lexi Fortier threatened to open up the 4-3 game even more.
“I just knew I had my defense behind me. If they hit it, they hit it,” Fortier said.
Third baseman Riley Webb was behind Fortier, turning a ground ball into an inning-ending double play with two more innings left to hang onto the lead.
A strikeout and good defense, including a comebacker to Fortier, carried the Highlanders through the sixth inning while Wolverine sophomore pitcher Sage Borkowski kept Northwestern batters in check.
Three straight outs in the top of the seventh sent the Highlanders to Friday’s quarterfinals, where they will host No. 9 St. Joseph. The Cadets, now 17-4 from the FCIAC, beat the NVL’s No 8 Wolcott 6-1 on Wednesday.
NO. 1 NORTHWESTERN 4, NO. 17 OXFORD 3
At Northwestern High School
OXFORD 100 020 0 — 3 8 2
NORTHWESTERN 102 100 X — 4 6 2
WP: Lexi Fortier. LP: Sage Borkowski. 3B: NW — Gina Weingart. 2B: O — Maddie Sastram. NW — Harley Jasmin.
Records: Oxford 15-7, Northwestern 22-0.