LITCHFIELD — Northwestern still reigns over the Berkshire League world of softball.
The defending champion Highlanders pulled away from Wamogo to a 9-5 win in the last two innings at Wamogo High School Wednesday afternoon in a hitting contest between the league’s top two teams, both undefeated (7-0) going in.
“It was just a hitting battle,” said Northwestern coach Stacey Zematis, whose team rolled to its 38th straight league win. “It was just a matter of who ended up getting the hits at the right time.”
A strong wind in the early innings contributed to four home runs and a total of nine extra-base hits.
All of the Warrior runs came on special deliveries over the fence — two homers by Savannah Wheeler (2-for-3, 4 RBI) and one by Mackenzie Harnett (2-for-3).
Jana Sanden had a solo shot for the Highlanders, but Northwestern’s real timing coup came in the final innings.
With the wind calmed down, Northwestern pitcher Lexi Fortier (8 hits, 9 strikeouts, 1 walk) and her defense held the Warriors to just two more hits after Wheeler’s second homer tied the score at 5-5 in the bottom of the fifth inning.
The Highlanders kept slugging. Nine of their 15 hits came in the last three innings, five in the decisive sixth and seventh.
“We just make adjustments,” said Sanden (3-for-4, 3 runs scored), explaining Northwestern’s success over one of the league’s top pitchers in Wamogo’s Samantha Sylvester (6 strikeouts, 3 walks). “I told the girls to move back in the box.”
Sanden’s two-out homer in the top of the first inning, followed by back-to-back doubles by Harley Jasmin (3-for-5, 2 doubles, 3 runs, RBI) and Riley Webb (RBI) raised the threat of a repeat of last year’s 11-2 and 13-4 Northwestern wipeouts of the Warriors, when the teams were also one and two in the league.
“This year, we’ve closed the gap,” said Wamogo coach Dave Sylvester. “They were a very, very good-hitting team today — just a little better than we were.”
Nevertheless, the gap seemed destined to slam shut in the bottom of the first inning. With two outs, Sylvester (2-for-4, double, 2 runs) grounded a hit up the middle. Wheeler teed up her first home run, over the center field fence. Harnett followed with another one over the left field fence for a 3-2 Wamogo lead.
No pitcher likes to see long balls sail over her head, but Northwestern’s Fortier, normally a contact pitcher, can be philosophical about them.
“It makes me more comfortable knowing we’ll get them back with our hitters,” Fortier said.
Both pitchers clung to that attitude Wednesday.
Northwestern tied the score 3-3 in the bottom of the second on hits by freshman Raelynn Perregaux (3-for-4, triple, 2 runs, RBI) and Ellie Olsen (2-for-5, RBI), then jumped ahead in the top of the fifth with two more runs on hits by Sanden, Jasmin, Ava Blanchard (2-for-4) and Perregaux.
In the bottom of the inning, Sylvester and Wheeler delivered another one-two punch for Wamogo with a double and homer to tie the score one more time, but this time the Warriors were done and the reigning champs were not.
Sydney Sanden, Jana Sanden and Jasmin delivered a winning barrage in the top of the sixth with three runs on a walk, single, double, error and wild pitch. Perregaux capped the win with a leadoff triple in the seventh, followed by a sacrifice fly from Megan Griswold.
“If both teams take care of business, it will make the second game even more meaningful,” said Sylvester.
By then, both teams might also have visions of second chances in Class M and S.
After its undefeated BL season last year, Northwestern lost to state champion St. Joseph in the Class M quarterfinals. Wamogo lost to Class S champion Stafford Springs in the semis.