The Lakeland softball team won its first IHSAA sectional championship in 14 years last Thursday night in Benton with a 2-0 decision over Wawasee.
“I couldn’t be any happier for a group of players than I am for this one,” said veteran Lady Laker coach Sherry Severson, still dripping-wet from the water cooler bath she took from her joyous players after the last out had been recorded. “Our seniors have been close to getting to this point (a championship), but weren’t able to get over the hump for some reason or another.”
In fact, nine times since the last Lakeland title in 1998 Severson has guided a team to the sectional finals only to lose. A year ago, host Columbia City downed the Lady Lakers, 6-0 in the sectional decider.
Fittingly, it was a Lady Laker who has endured her own struggles throughout her athletic career whose hit in the bottom of the third inning drove in what would be the winning run. Senior Lauren McKibben, who was forced to sit out the past two campaigns due to injury, lashed a two-out single to left field, scoring Kizzie Trinh from second base.
“To come back after two years and help the team win a sectional is an awesome experience,” said McKibben. “It’s (winning a sectional) is what we have been working for all year.”
Later in the third, a bizarre play resulted in a second Lakeland marker. With McKibben on third, Carolyn Hershberger struck out, which appeared to end the frame and caused the Wawasee defense to leave the field. However, the Wawasee catcher did not cleanly field the pitch and after some confusion, and a great deal of coaxing from Severson, McKibben touched home plate and Hershberger raced around the bases.
Wawasee pitcher Gabi Routson ran back on the field to retrieve the ball and throw out Hershberger as she tried to score to finally end the inning. Lady Warrior coach Cory Schutz argued that his catcher had caught the ball and McKibben’s run shouldn’t count, but the umpire ruled against him and the margin became 2-0.
That was more than enough support for Lakeland hurler Ashlynn Grubb, who tossed her third shutout of the sectional and 19th of her brilliant career. Grubb struckout 13 Wawasee batters, including all three in the seventh inning to nail down the title.
“It’s a pretty comfortable feeling with Ashlynn in the pitcher’s circle with a two-run lead,” said Severson. “To throw three shutouts in sectional play is really remarkable.”
Lakeland (20-12) will host a 3A regional contest Tuesday night against Woodlan (29-1). The Lady Warriors, last year’s 2A state runner-up, blanked Leo, 6-0 to win the Leo sectional. First pitch is set for 7 p.m.