AKRON — When asked about about her team’s prospects, Woodridge junior pitcher Caitlin Raid gave an honest assessment Wednesday.
"Back at the beginning of the season, I was little pessimisstic," Raid said. "Once I saw us coming together and playing as a team, I knew we could something."
That "We, not me, attitude," as Raid and her coaches put it, has led Woodridge softball to a place it has never been before: The Division II regional final.
Woodridge earned its first trip to the regional finals in school history with an 8-3 win over Canal Fulton Northwest Wednesday at Firestone Stadium in Akron.
The Bulldogs improved to 15-10 on the season and advanced to play Beloit West Branch Saturday at noon in the regional final at Firestone. Northwest finished the season at 17-4.
Woodridge head coach Dan Schneider Jr. was all smiles after the win, as he had seen the Bulldogs’ season end at the regional semifinal level twice before, most recently in 2012. Schneider said the Bulldogs’ fighting team spirit as become its trademark.
"Even in the games we’ve lost his year, we’ve come back fighting," Schneider said. "Last year, we would get down and not get back up. The more it goes, the easier it gets for these girls. Our mantra has been ‘You play together and have fun.’"
While the Bulldogs’ mantra might be simple, so has their method for winning in the playoffs: Limit the opponents’ damage and have a big inning at the plate.
Raid provided another gritty performance in the circle, while Woodridge committed only one error. Raid (15-7) pitched a complete game, allowing three earned runs on eight hits with three walks and two strikeouts.
Raid worked out of numerous jams in the game, as she forced the Indians to leave eight runners on base.
"She probably wishes she wouldn’t get in those situations, but she does a great job," Schneider said. "We have to tell her ‘Throw it, don’t steer it’ sometimes."
Northwest took the lead in the top of the second inning, when second baseman Jordan Miller led off with a triple and scored on a sacrifice bunt to make it 1-0.
Woodridge’s big inning, however, would come in the bottom of the third.
Northwest pitcher Jensen Miller (12-4) looked dominant in the first two innings, but then lost the strike zone. She issued four walks in the third inning, including two straight to lead off the inning.
Bulldogs shortstop Brayden Wigal singled to load the bases, followed by a two-run single from third baseman Emily Mally to make it 2-1. Wigal then scored on a sacrifice fly by first baseman Sydney Shaheen and, following a walk, Raid put down a sacrifce bunt to make it 4-1.
An Indian error allowed two more runs to score, making it 6-1 Woodridge after threee innings.
Jensen Miller gave up eight runs (six earned) in five innings of work, allowing eight hits and four walks while striking out five batters.
Northwest had its chances to reply, as it left the bases loaded in the fourth inning. In the fifth inning, the Indians pulled two runs back, thanks to an RBI single from Jordan Miller and a sacrifice bunt from designated player Maddie Kurz.
Much like their distrcit final win over Crestwood, Woodridge blunted the momentum by getting a run back in the bottom of the fifth.
The Bulldogs got three straight singles from catcher Sage Jenkins, Raid and center fielder Bella McBride. After a strikeout, designated player Hayley Roenickg hit a dribbler wide of circle and beat the throw for an RBI infield single to make it 7-3.
"We’ve got a freshman that’s playing DP. What does that say?" Schneider said. "She was driving in runs in the last game too."
The Bulldogs added another insurance run in the sixth. Wigal singled, Mally put down a bunt and reached on an error and Shaheen hit an RBI single to right to make it 8-3.
Raid then set the Indians down 1-2-3 in the seventh inning to clinch the win.
Scheider said he knew his team would be the underdog against West Branch (25-3), who defeated Perry 3-1 in the other regional semifinal Wednesday at Firestone.
"I’d say a lot of it is momentum now," Schneider said. "As long as the girls play together and have fun, I know we have a chance."
Reporter Michael Leonard can be reached at 330-541-9442, firstname.lastname@example.org or @MLeonard_RPC