CANTON — Northwest head coach Megan Levengood couldn’t muster a guess of the last time her program played for a district title.
A deep run through the postseason has proved elusive through the years for the Lady Indians. Rememberings of sectional-round heartbreak are all that dot their recent memory banks.
On Wednesday, they finally had something to celebrate.
Olivia Francis hit a go-ahead two-run home run in the sixth inning and Jensen Miller held off top-seeded Tallmadge the rest of the way as fifth-seeded Northwest survived a 3-2 thriller to advance to the Canton district title game.
There was no shortage of drama, even from the opening couple of innings that yielded no hits by either team.
Playing at Willig Park’s multi-purpose softball fields, players from both sides noticed something about the field that seemed a tad wrong.
In the batter’s box, pitches whirred past faster than usual. And for pitchers, it all just seemed a little too easy.
Eventually, Northwest’s players mentioned the odd feel to Levengood, who summoned tournament officials to check into it.
Minutes later, a measuring tape told the story. Instead of the high school regulation length of 43 feet from pitcher’s rubber to home plate, the tape read 40 feet, giving pitchers a significant advantage over their hitting adversaries.
It took 15 minutes to move the rubber to the proper spot, erase and redraw the pitcher’s circle and continue with the game.
On top of that, coaches from both sides had to determine whether to restart the game or continue into the third inning, ultimately landing on the latter since neither team had a runner reach base over the first two innings.
That wasn’t the last time the odd field conditions played a factor either.
The ball Francis clocked to win the game for Northwest may not have left the ballpark at a field designed for high school softball.
Because the fields at Willig are sometimes used for men’s and co-ed league softball, the normal fences stretch to 315 feet down the left-field and right-field lines, obviously much further than any high school softball field. So instead of the typical outfield fences, movable 5-foot-tall barriers boxed in the playing field Wednesday.
Francis’ line-drive home run hovered just enough to get over the barrier, sending a Tallmadge outfielder crashing through the temporary fence.
While Northwest (15-4) scored first on a Lauren Michel single down the right-field line in the third inning, it was Tallmadge that looked in control down the stretch. Tallmadge junior pitcher Emily Pratt had a pair of run-scoring singles during the fourth and fifth innings, respectively, giving the Lady Blue Devils a 2-1 lead with just six outs remaining.
Francis swung the momentum soon afterward.
Pratt also dominated in the circle, both before and after the rubber change, striking out nine batters while allowing just four hits. An error put the runner on to set up Francis’ game-winning homer too, giving the Indians the decisive run for free.
Tallmadge finished with nine hits and one error. Northwest had four hits and two errors.
Junior center fielder Autumn Malicoat had two hits and a run scored and senior second baseman Riley Chochola added two hits for the Lady Blue Devils (17-6).
This was the final game for Chochola and senior classmates Gabbi Gray (shortstop) and McKayla Hajjar (third baseman).